Thursday, November 24, 2011

KOTO Bike Ride 2011

KOTO (Know One, Teach One) is a great organisation here in Vietnam that helps disadvantaged and street youth by giving them the opportunity to learn life and hospitality skills. It was started by an Australian and if you're ever here you should definitely drop into one of their restaurants. The training and value they give is evident simply being there.

Once a year they do a charity bike ride from Hanoi to the national park in Ba Vi. Johnny did it years ago, and I tossed up that we should do it this year. Then I found out it was $200 and that put an end to that. Then, a week or two before Johnny got CBA on board and suddenly a bunch of us were doing it.

The first thing I should note is that it was 70kms. SEVENTY KILOMETERS. It started off at 60kms, then on the morning Johnny said it was 65kms, then at the end of the ride someone said it was more like 70kms. Let me tell you now, when you're hot, tired and about to burst into tears, it's a very big difference.

But the key point here is that we finished it. Or more importantly, I finished it. The first half was "okay". It was definitely novelty riding through the countryside and seeing children run to the streets to yell "hello!". By the time we pulled into the halfway point I was ready to quit. It was emotional. For some reason I kept going. I think it was because:
   a) I was under the illusion of "how much worse can it get"
   b) Surely there's some type of barrier I'd "break through" or
   c) Not wanting to be "that person"

The second half was painful. Tears were imminent the whole way. I did not break through any type of barrier. We rode through amazing countryside but it it now tinged with pain. I will never look at it the same way.

The upside is: Johnny has proved himself to be an AMAZING partner. I'm not going to get gushy but we all know how competitive he is. He, instead of taking up the challenge rode with me the entire way, didn't get angry or frustrated, and knew when I was about to burst into tears and stopped. He said later he didn't even feel like he rode all that way. To him it was a walk in the park. Oh the other upside is that I didn't die. And KOTO raised money.

The irony is that they called this a "fun ride". IT IS NOT A FUN RIDE. It is a physical and metal challenge. My sense of achievement is overshadowed by pain. Pain that will live forever.

* This isn't meant to be a negative post, it's supposed to be a happy one about achievement blah blah. Yeah!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Three's A Charm

Yeeyee, Daphne and us on the Hanoi Street Food Tour

Angie & Christa embracing Asian poses

Renee and Emily @ Cong Caphe
Amazingly, in the last two weeks we managed to have 3 sets of guest stay with us back to back. The great part about this is getting to show people that you do in fact live in Hanoi, and all the things you love about it (in case that sounds sarcastic is isn't). It also means there's lots of validation that it's not easy living here and it's also an excuse to get Johnny to take me to my favourite french restaurant La Badiane. Any excuse is a good excuse.

I'm going to do a post of all the must-do things in Hanoi in case anyone ever needs it. But in the meantime, here are some high and low-lights from our guests.

Top 3 Highlights
1. Listening to John have the conversation with the bakery
2. Caphe Cong and the special caphe (yoghurt coffee!)
3. Walking the streets of the old town and lake
3. Doing the exercise class (park booty dancing)
4. Mint slice cake

1. Tai chi on board the boat at Ha Long Bay
2. Eating bun cha
3. The crazy energy

1. Fried noodles on the Hanoi Street Food Tour
2. Bar Betta
3. The sunset at Ha Long Bay

1. Street Food tour!! loved loved loved. I actually really like the last bit where we had squid and sat by the side of the street on the straw mats
2. Getting to visit the wet market and the cooking class. Wet markets were more interesting for me.
3. Getting to see u the lady of lesiure u in full glory! muahahahahahahha

Top 3 Lowlights
1. Getting ripped off
2. Feeling like i was getting ripped off
3. Watching the driver run over to us and knowing that my life was in his hands
4. Feeling very fat

1. Rotting seafood garbage on the streets
2. Shrimp paste
3. Public urination

1. Undisciplined children
2. The beeping
3. Bad air

Who else can add some high and low-lights?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Malaysia: That Place In Asia

Novelty frame
This was very, very exciting

I don't know who they were but they were dancing at the wedding

Family portrait

Watching Australia play badly in the World Cup

My dad turns into putty


Tea ceremony


Assam Laksa. NOM.

Daphne showing how it's done Penang
Malaysia was a funny trip. First of all, I didn't know how long I was going to be there for (I bought a 1 way ticket)- all we knew was we were there for a wedding. Secondly, it was a cast of thousands. Not only was there already a whole heap family there already, add 8 others from Australia. As a result, we were "going with the flow"- something which as you get older suddenly feels more and more scary.

The highlights:
:: Being surrounded by lots and lots of family. This includes Daphne being let out of the country (whoo), seeing my super cute nephew Callum, and lots and lots of new babies. I also now have a much better grip on my dads family tree.

:: FOOD. Although later on in the trip I felt physically overwhelmed and sick from constant eating, I can't say I'm not proud. It's true, Malaysian are obsessed with food. Even if you're already eating at the time, every conversation is about food and the next meal.

:: Naps. I'm pretty sure one day Johnny and I had three of them.

:: Staying in a hotel in the city for the first time. This was pretty exciting cause I'd never stayed in the middle of it all before. We were still in bed at a pretty decent hour...

:: Seeing all the traditional Chinese wedding customs and almost having an asthma attack from fireworks.

:: Visiting Melaka for the second time in ten years. I had completely forgotten it. It's positively kitsch and cute. It's fun being a tourist sometimes.

:: Going on a road trip to Penang. This was pretty much an eating tour. It was great being near a beach, but the real highlight was listening to an Auntys story about how there was a ghost was in her bed!! She actually held on to the end of the trip to tell us because she didn't want to scare us! We also went to a spice garden where out guide told us that nutmeg, cinnamon and star anise will kill us. In so many words.

:: Catching the bus to Singapore. I caught an Aeroline coach and it was one of the best travelling experiences EVER. I can't recommend it enough. A return ticket cost about $60AUD and they serve you lunch as well. Every seat had it's own little tv with movies and music you could choose. It was just like a flight except pick-up and drop off points were in convenient locations and there was stuff to look at outside. From beginning to end it was almost exactly 5 hours including a pitstop.

:: Hanging out with Ray in Singapore. Again with the food. One day included eat yum cha, going to have cake and coffee, talking entirely about what to have for dinner, then going to dinner. Singapore itself blew me away. Everything was beautiful and well looked-aftered. You could tell there was thought put into everything unlike you know where (Vietnam).

:: Being ready to come home. I actually missed it. Who would have thought?

*Disclaimer: Because Johnny could only stay 4 days because of work he actually missed out on most of these highlights which sucks. On the upside, how lucky am I to be sent on holiday? At dinner last night we talked about how even though it sometimes it's hard living here and away from everyone, we actually have it really, really good.

Friday, November 18, 2011


One of the questions I get frequently get asked by Sydney people is " who do you hang out with??".

This is a bit of a late post about my friend Charmagne. I met her through some random correspondence through the i.n.t.e.r.n.e.t. (she found me through twitter) and it went from there. Things like that happen in Hanoi.

She was here from the States working at the swish Sofitel Metropole as their in-house jazz singer 6 nights a week. She lived there too which was awesome because it gave me many excuses to simply be there. If you've been there you know that that's kinda cool.

We got on like a house on fire because we both knew living here was hard and scary, and we knew we could say anything. Usually something inappropriate and hilarious. Oddly, she got me into Indian food too.

The reason why I'm posting? Besides being a blog post version of stamping my feet and yelling "I DO HAVE FRIENDS!" before I bursting into tears and running away, it's to make 2 points:

1) Anything can happen here- when or where else would a black American lesbian jazz singer (who's HAS A GRAMMY) meet and be friends with an Asian-Australian housewife in her twenties?

2) Your friends leave you- or if you're lucky, you leave first. It's kinda like saying to your partner "I hope I die first". But that's okay cause that's just how it goes. I probably sound melodramatic but really it's just my first, and I know many others have had to deal with it time and time again.

Oh the life of an expat.

*hello Charmagne!*

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oh Saigon

Our teppanyaki chef pulled out a Michael Jackson routine
Johnny and a giant ball

Johnny is their target market

We met up with Angel!

Fancy oysters at The Deck

There's no doubt this blog has been a tad quiet. We've been busy with lots of trips, visitors and crazy work situations (okay Johnny at least). There's alot to catch-up on and the OCD in me feels the need to backtrack and post about everything separately, and in order.  So first up, Saigon.

It's been about 2 years since I packed up and left the city to go back to Australia. I often listen to other CBA people working here talk about how great they think it is and how it's so much better- so much more modern and cleaner they say. I asked my friend Kate who lives there about this and she said it was still crap.

So we went down. I was excited. How much had it really changed? Well, alot. It DID seem more modern and cleaner. When I was living there is was a dirty town full of construction. All that has now been turned in modern buildings with shops and restaurants that you can spend lots of money on. Well, in comparison to Hanoi anyway (and yes, we did spend lots of money).

Key points:
:: Saigon is totally the cliche Sydney (loud, brash, crazy) of Vietnam, and Hanoi the cliche Melbourne...or Canberra (quieter, cultural, a bit more refined).

:: Saigon made me feel really claustrophobic- something I was glad to come across because that's exactly how I felt when I was there before. Hanoi isn't as built up and the lakes somehow make it seem calmer and more beautiful.

:: People down south are nicer, and less arrogant. And have better English. That's pretty much agreed among everyone you talk to about the differences.

:: Johnny really wants to move there and day by day is plotting it through work.

:: Southern pho is delicious. Yes, yes it is.

:: We met up with Angel and ate snails. YUM. I missed them. She showed us a photo of her baby and he's very, very fat.

:: Warda and The Deck are still awesome. Put them on your list of places to visit while you're there.

:: They have Beard Papa! Nom nom nom nom nom. I bought 6 and really, really wanted to eat them all (but didn't, phew). In hindsight, I totally should have.

So that was our trip. I felt sentimental about being back for a total of about 5 minutes and was glad to be home. If we move there? Well, that will be another blog post.