Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Duties done and dusted

When you're sleeping at night, when everything is really quiet, and you hear *bump* *bump* thudding around somewhere outside, don't fret; that would probably be me sleepwalking into things with my newly acquired, rotund, Friar Tuck-like Christmas belly. I think it may have stretch marks and if I had a hand-mirror to be able to see under the bulge I might be able to tell for sure!

I've been having an awesome time since being back - hence the lack of posts. First Natalie came to visit and we did everything we wanted, just chilling on the couch, shopping, going out for sushi, going to my sister's holiday house in Pearly Beach and I even managed some diving in between. My grand tally of crayfish caught stands at five which includes two oupa rooi gerte (grandfather crayfish) as long as my forearm. Nat went home on Saturday, which sucked big time not being able to spend more time with her, and then I went back to Pearly Beach with the parentals to do the family thing, which was very cool.

Christmas represented old-skool, going back to the tradition of spending Eve at my aunt's house in Franskraal with the whole famdam. I think this tradition stretches back to way before I was born so it's quite a solid one which I understand is good to maintain, like a Unesco World Heritage Site or something and not in the Calvinistic sense of tradition. Bleh. I had fun. Got some cool prezzies too.

I'm currently in Hermanus, where the next few days will be spent consuming a mishmash of alcoholic beverages, of dubious quality but impressive quantity, and surfing, or lying on the beach giving off the "surfer karma" making sure everyone knows I surf and trying to fool everyone into thinking I can do 360 airs, reverse rolls, drop-knee 720s and pull into two minute barrels just by the way I lie on the beach gazing across the blue expanse that is my playground. If I pull it off Uri Geller better step back cause his spoon-bending antics will be so-last-century...oh wait, they already are.

Will post again before New Year's Even hopefully. If I don't: You know what to do, don't disappoint yourself or me.

Some pics follow here or on FlickR shortly!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Journey: complete

Forty hours, five airports, six airplane meals, 24 Bellingham tiny wines, three hours of sleep, three in-flight movies, one suicidal piece of machinery and one sick passenger later: I am home.

These last few days would have been hell on earth if I wasn't so excited about coming home. After Bangkok we arrived in Nairobi at four am, departing at Jomo Kenyatta Airport. It felt like when you come out of a late-night movie in a mall and all the shops are closed, lights dimmed, and your footsteps echo in the empty corridors. We had to wait until 7:30 for our next flight, but that turned out to be 13:00, as some mechanical thingy-majig on the plane decided to commit suicide (selfish bugger) as we were taxiing, so we had to turn around on the runway and wait in the departure lounge until 12, by which time they'd figured out what was wrong, but then the pilot and his crew had completed their 12-hour shift and the airline was compelled by law to find another pilot. Luckily, there was a captain and crew sitting in the government/first-class lounge playing strip-poker and drinking games with the air hostesses, chuggin' on fat Havanas, downing tequila shots and chasing them with Jack and coke mixers. They would have to do.

Tiny wine was ordered and we headed off to Joburg aka Egoli, place of gold. It was a bumpy ride but the views while flying over the Serengeti and lakes Tanganyika and Victoria were worth it, as well of course, the copious i-tiny winies in constant supply and disappearing in a perennial stream. By the time we departed at Johannesburg, Christoff couldn't focus or handle heavy machinery (afterwards he said he couldn't remember ever climbing off the airplane at JHB International - damn lightweight) so yours truly had to do the PA work, booking us in and getting us on the Mango Airlines plane, who, by the way were pretty crap, and made us about three hours late but it wasn't their fault and if you pay minimal fees that's what you can expect so we couldn't complain. Other passengers did, however and kudos to Ghia the uber-cool air hostess who handled the grumpy, "this is not acceptable service", "I have hemorrhoids so I want a softer seat" whiny-ass passengers with grace and icy-cool finesse. Nice one! If they want silver service, maybe they should have coughed up a bit more money instead of buying the cheapest plane ticket on the market.

Again, while we were taxiing on the runway, some dude got a panic attack and freaked out. Five brandy shots and seven bitch-slaps didn't rectify the situation so we had to turn around again and drop him off. Back into the queue waiting to depart. I'm not sure, but I think we arrived in Cape Town at about 22:20 last night. It was good to see the folks and fam who had been waiting since seven I think, but luckily they used the Kotzé family common-sense and headed to the nearest airport restaurant to polish several bottles of wine whilst waiting.

I'm as happy as an ant in a cookie jar, bee in a honey pot, or caterpillar on head of lettuce. Will update again soon!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The first leg is complete

Well, aren't I a dedicated blogger? I'm sitting in an internet cafe, overlooking a big green garden in a damn big airport. Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to be exact. This place is ginormous. It looks like a giant, U-shaped warehouse - the kind of warehouse that stocks people and airplanes. Steel and glass everywhere. It's times like these I wish I had rollerblades so I could just skate from one side to the other.

Airports are awesome, you see so many interesting people from around the world. I've only been here for about two hours, but it would take about another hour to describe some of the people I've seen, from a young Muslim boy wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt to an old man straight out of the 60s with grey, downy chest hair as long as my forearm peeling out from the button-holes of his shirt...The only gross thing about this airport is that there are a lot of very white, balding,, dirty, ugly and old Western men traveling with beautiful young Asian girls, which is a bit unnerving - I'm sure they love each other to death but I can't help wondering about the nature of their relationship and whether it really is that tingly, butterflies-in-the-stomach, head-over-heels, flushed, can't-sleep-at-night-so-I-stay-up-writing-poetry-to-you kind of love...

Well, I've got another eight hours to go and then it's off to Nairobi (where I doubt they have an internet cafe!) and another few hours delay...eight more hours of observing people...should be fun.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Last day of work

I’m sitting here at school, about to go teach my last class for a little over a month. It’s an ambivalent feeling. No, that’s crap. It feels awesome going home. I’m gonna miss this place, but I’d miss it more if I weren’t coming back in four weeks. I could go off on some long-winded, adjective- and emotion-filled doughnut of a rant of what a great experience these last 9 months have been etc, but I’ll spare us all some tears and yawns. It was good. Punt (punt in Afrikaans means “Full stop – as in the punctuation mark – but carries more weight, probably because it’s shorter).

I thought I’d share this: As I’m writing this post, my mom just text messaged me. I thought, great, she gonna tell me how she can’t wait for me to come home; “Nog net twee slapies my diertjie” or something in that line. No, instead: “Are you allowed to wear pink shirts to work?” A bit arb, but funny.

Anyways, tomorrow evening this time I’ll be somewhere over the Indian Ocean, scratching my uncomfortable ass in my severely limited leg-room, wondering why the hell I decided to fly with Kenya Airways via godforsaken Nairobi..Oh yes, because it was damn cheap!

I’ll post again as soon as I’ve figured out what this “reverse-culture shock” phenomenon is all about…

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fast-food framing

Originally uploaded by HennoK.

(To the tune of Abba's "Mama Mia")

Lotteria! Here we go again!
My, my, how can I resist you?
Lotteria! Does it show again?
My, my, just how much I've missed you.
Since the day I started,
Can't believe that with your chicken burger I've parted...

That's my 70s post for the day duty done...I feel used.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Visual visit tree

This is pretty neat. James Spahr, a designer on Information Aesthetics, created this diagram, visually depicting "how online users travel through a specific website. All traffic moves clockwise around the map, enters at the bottom of the page & exits at the top of the page. Thicker lines mean more traffic, while the color of traffic leaving a page matches the color of the section it is going to & vice versa."

[link: Eyebeam Reblog via designweenie.comvia knowingart.com]

I guess it's a bit more difficult for blogs, being single page entries (mostly), but wouldn't it be interesting to have a visual description of your site? You would probably also need a fair amount of traffic to generate a reasonable image. So, on the contrary, my blog's "visual tree" would probably look like so:


What's that? The number of people who have succumb to Typhoon Durian? The temperature in Saigon today? The number of Honda Dreams that I had to dodge on my way to District 4? The number of pimples on my ass? Nope, it's how well I know world countries. My score is 55, which is three better than noodlepie's, but couldn've been nearer to 100 (!) if I had better "mouse-control" and hand-eye coordination. Give it a try and post your score!

Hump Day

Today is “Hump Day” as Susan so kindly informed me (I think maybe I’ve finally met someone with a dirtier mind than me!). No, not like that, but I thought it was like that until I discovered it wasn’t but I still wish it was like that. It’s actually a vernacular term for Wednesday.

I never knew Wednesday was ubiquitously defined as Hump Day. I know about TGI Friday and the Sabbath, but Hump Day is new to me. Here’s a formal definition, here’s a more obscure one and here’s a plain fiendish one (which is actually like that which I first thought it was like and am quite glad it is that).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The perfect storm (my ass)

Patrick Swayze was out in the back-break of Nha Trang’s main beach, golden locks flowing in the wind and dripping with saltwater, mixing with the sweat beading on his forehead. Sitting across his nine-foot “rhino-chaser”, his heart was pounding in his throat as his muscles tensed at the sight of the oncoming perfect storm. The ocean bunched on the horizon as the swell picked up and he started to paddle...It was Typhoon Durian. The typhoon that hit Philippines a few days ago, where it killed hundreds, was on its way to Vietnam, and it stank. Like the fruit. Durian stinks. More then you can possibly imagine. The large, spiky green skin encases a yellowy, ripe, seething mass of meat-like, gooey pods that smell like a 10-day old rotting carcass of an alcoholic fisherman festering in a dank, dark alleyway near the harbour, amalgamating with the fishy-blood-and-guts odours of the wharf. And people eat it. And now it is was a typhoon.

Typhoon Durian hit Vietnam’s east coast last night, first making land off Quy Island, about 120 km off the mainland, then sweeping over the coastal resort city of Nha Trang and further inland, wreaking havoc and destruction, sinking more than a 1000 ships, leaving death and disaster in its wake. The government took drastic action, evacuating as many as 50 000 inhabitants from the predicted hotspots, but at least 15 people have died so far and 1000s are homless.

I took precautionary measures too, not leaving anything to fate or sloppy housekeeping, as I thought it would hit HCM City. I tied down the pot plants in the garden, nailed shut the windows and filled up the gap under the doors with polyfilla putty. I sticky-taped the paintings to the walls, glued down the furniture and bubble-wrapped all the glasses and kitchenware in the cabinets. I switched off the electricity, bought a week’s supply of canned food and dog food (for Christoff – I didn’t have much money left after I bought the space blanket and thermal underwear) and rearranged my cupboards survival-style so the most important garments necessary for evacuation were within reach. I crawled under my two duvets and waited. The wind picked up slightly around 11 ‘o clock and a slight buzzing in the air was making the hair on the nape of my neck rise. ‘Must be the static electricity that precedes a deep tropical depression,” I thought. The wind started to howl, the pitter-patter of the rain started slowly, gaining momentum until the individual drops were indiscernible from each other and the drumming increased in velocity. The shutters rattled and the howl of my neighbours dog cut through the noise. I thought, ‘This is it. Durian is here.”

The rain continued for a while, and then abruptly slowed down to an anti-climatic pitter-patter again. I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad no-one got hurt and we didn’t have to evacuate the city and seek shelter in the Mekong Delta, or worse, flee to Cambodia – but still disappointed. I was expecting more from Durian. Even the canal near my house, which usually fills up when a half-decent thunderstorm makes an appearance, was still empty. Maybe Typhoon Chom-Chom will bring the expected pain, anguish and excitement I was expecting. Probably not.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Miss-ed Saigon

I know a lot of people have ranted about expats behaving badly in Vietnam, not taking local customs and cultures into consideration, but it’s good to have finally had a lighthearted spin put on the matter. Last night I watched a local amateur acting troupe, the Saigon Players, perform a charity show called “Miss-ed Saigon”. The comedy show highlighted (sometimes painfully when you realise, “Hey, wait, I’ve done that!”), the inapt musings and behaviour of the expatriate community in Vietnam. Although it focused mainly on the “real expats”, those with real “hardship posts” at established multinational companies, villas in An Phu (District 2), drivers, and spouses who spend their time getting massages and manicures (basically, the type of expat life I can’t afford or wouldn’t indulge in even if I could), it still hit the spot quite accurately and had even the most jaded and cynical of audience members cracking up in recognition of some antics they too have dabbled in.

For example, they spoofed how difficult it was for some expats to pronounce Vietnamese names: Here’s a watered down version of the dialogue.

“Nguyen’s coming to the meeting.”
“No, Nguyen.”
“The meeting’s at two.”
“Yes, the meeting with Thu is at one”
“No, the meeting with Oanh is only at three, what about Nguyen?”
“Huh? What about when? I told you, two!”
“But the meeting with Thu is only at one!”
“Oanh? At three, not two!”

Shamed by “our” behaviour, a few of us decided to go have drinks at a bia hoi – local style (Actually Chi is Vietnamese, but she spent five years in London so she semi-qualifies with her posh Brit accent).

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hit of the week

Today's hit of the week, proudly brought to you by IP2map.com, is from: Kathmandu, Bagmati, Nepal (12/1/2006 4:12:36 AM). I didn't know they had open internet in Nepal - I thought it was all banned and censored like the other medias, but there you go. Thank you.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Some pics from the Teacher's Day

Here are some of the "official" photos from the afore-mentioned Teacher's Day two weeks ago, one even sporting a fake Freddy Mercury. There are like 500 to choose from, but my honed whittling down powers have brought them down to four.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bia Ahoooooyyy!!!

Bia Ahoooooy!

No matter what culture you’re from, what class you were born in to, what god you worship – there is one thing that pervades all society that leaps the cultural divide, that embraces all ethnicities and languages under one flag and that gives us all that content, warm fuzzy feeling inside: Beer. Can you feel it? I’ll say it again: Beer. Yes, matey.

I went out with a bunch of friends last night to sample bia hoi; Vietnam’s version of what could be likened to other alcoholic institutes such as the Geordie’s Brown Ale, the piss they drink in the States, or good old South African Castle Lager, or my tipple of choice, Black Label. Well not really because it's not really a brand like Tiger Beer or Larue, which are both popular here, but I'd like to think of it as an institution that exceeds the realms of "brand-dom". Bia hoi can be enjoyed anywhere, but like most good things in life (and most good beers in life); it is best served chilled, on a porch or veranda overlooking a crowded street in the company of good conversation and a buzzing atmosphere.

When it comes to bia hoi, there are three things which distinguish it from the (six)pack. Firstly, it's usually served in what the bergies (or bums, the unemployed, students, homeless, tasteless or aka my friends and I) in Stellenbosch call ‘n twee-man-kan (lit: a two-man-can; which is an one, two or three liter plastic can).

Secondly, although all bia hoi is brewed differently and contains varying levels of alcohol, it is generally low in content (between 1-4%), as was proven by us last night. Between about six of us, we managed to drink 27 litres, or 54 pints and we all felt fine.

Finally, and to some the biggest difference, is the price. Bia hoi is CHEAP. Like I’m talking cheaper than most of my friends' mothers...okay let’s not go there. Let’s take last night for example. How much would 54 pints put you back in a dirty cheap-to-reasonable pub in the UK? An average of £3, which equals a pocket-denting £162. Hmm…And in South Africa? Let’s take a pint of Castle Draught down at your local. R10. That equals to 540 Rand (About $80). How much did 27 litres of bia hoi put us back last night? Ching Ching Em Oi! Oh my sack! 94 500 Vietnam Dong. Now for those not Foreign Exchange-ingly literate, that equals to a massive $6!!!

God bless bia hoi, and of course Charlie Hops, the man who invented beer, beer, beer, tiddly bia bia bia!

Monday, November 27, 2006


My favourite football website 4thegame.com – which is like the Bible of everything you ever need to know about team news and transfer rumours – has this weekly feature called That Was The Week That Was or TWTWTW. Once again let me indulge in flagrant vanity assuming somebody other then my parents want to know what I did this weekend, so here’s my personal That Was The Weekend That Was, albeit slightly shorter, less dramatic and with way less money involved then the Premiership version - I guess it would be appropriate to begin with football.

Saturday. The Acet Past Perfects debut in the Soccer for the Streets Charity Football tournament, losing their 0-game undefeated streak to Luat Viet Red Sun by 0-1…The Past Perfects then go on a losing streak by going down 0-1 to Maersk Vietnam…Past Perfects complete their dismal hatrick, succumbing to the superior buying power of the eventual tournament winners the Saigon Raiders 2-1 (think Chelsea versus East Putney Pioneers - haha you guys were lucky Jon), but making a good show of it, as Ian Boyle scores the Perfects first and only goal of the tournament…Café Latin invites a member of the Perfects to sample their quality Larue draught beer later the afternoon…The evening sees Le Pub host the official charity afterparty at which a few brave Perfect team members make an appearance…The party shows the form, spirit and unity that was lacking in the teams performance earlier the day…Café Latin invites back one member of the Perfects and his friend to enjoy the atmosphere of a lively rugby test match between South Africa and England which the Springboks win by 25-14…The evening ends on a high note as Go2 Café invites various late night partygoers to have a seat on their veranda as to enjoy the neon-lights and excitement of the bacpacker area all the while indulging in a fine vintage of Vietnamese rum…

Sunday. Monaco Café makes a bid for two South Africans teachers in a Bosman free transfer (by means of a greasy fry-up and copious amounts of liquid refreshment) in an attempt to lure them to have breakfast at their esteemed establishment…The ploy works…The previously-mentioned teachers move on to District 10 to enjoy a day in the VIP Lounge at the Saigon Horse Racing Club…Not as much money is won as is lost on the ponies who make up the first six races…The thoroughbreds are brought out for race seven and Chilli Thunder and Tung Shing, with odds looking good, finish one-two bringing in 10-1 at the bookies and make two teachers not so unhappy anymore…Maximark Cong Hoa finally makes known their interest in the foreign contingent by means of a well-stocked supermarket where ingredients for a classic South African bredie or stew are purchased…The stew is glorious and reminds them that they're going home in less than two weeks… That Was The Weekend That Was...pictures follow asap.

KZ Chiefs game cancelled

Woe! I just recieved this in my inbox:

"Due to unforeseen circumstances that have unexpectedly arisen, the SA Embassy has had to postpone the visiting Kaiser Chiefs friendly matches, until further notice. Your understanding in this matter will be appreciated."

I'm sure my understanding in the matter would be appreciated if you could let me understand what the reason behind the cancellation is? Sorry to all those planning to go watch the game, but you can contact Gita Kamal Sharda at the SA Embassy for more info.

Guess the shibobos will have to wait 'til later...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Kaizer Chiefs in Nam

I just recieved an email from the South African Consulate in Hanoi that the Kazier Chiefs' under 19 football team are playing two games up in the capital. How weird is that?
They're playing Hoa Phat Hanoi u20 today and ACB Hanoi u20 on Sunday. The first game's probably a bit short notice but anyone up in Hanoi who wants to see shibobos (aka nutmegs), tsamayas, sthendes (backheels) and for-damn-sure some African flair and bambaata should head off to the Hang Day Stadium. Match starts at 3 pm.
Holla 7 - show me your numba!
*Update: Sorry guys - I got the dates wrong (the banner is in Vietnamese so excuse the mistake) - it's the 30th November and 3rd of December so check it out if you can!

Yum yum!

I know this is a bit late, but Susan sent me the photos from the dinner today and I thought I’d share this extravagant night with you guys.

Two wine wholesale/import companies, Connoisseur Wine Shop and Red Apron, organised a New Zealand Wine Dinner a few weeks ago at Xu, one of the trendier restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City. It was an exhibition of two wine estates, Alpha Domus and Villa Maria, a five course, New Zealand inspired-dinner and the way the vino and cuisine complimented each other.

Disclaimer: This is straight from the menu so apologies to any copyright infringements or plagiarism incurred in the creation of this post. I’m also not sure who took the photos, but I think it was Amber (?), but cheers to the flagrant photo plagiarism as well!

New Zealand mussels
Steamed in lemon grass, ginger and NZ Chardonnay
Vino: Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Methinks: A good opener and good fresh combo (this was probably the most complimentary pairing of food and wine).

Steamed mustard leaf grouper
With a lotus leaf salad, mini Vietnamese pancakes and coriander pesto
Vino: Alpha Domus Unoaked Chardonnay 2005

Methinks: The fish looked awkwardly arranged, but the wine saved the course (although an oaked chardonnay would have perhaps redeemed the meal further).

Five-spiced New Zealand veal cutlet
With sweet pumpkin mash, goat parcel, roasted baby onion and okra.
Vino: Villa Maria Private Bin Pinot Noir 2004

Methinks: The food was good and the pinot noir, which I usually associate with a lighter dish and had my doubts about, actually complimented it quite well as it was heavier on the palate than a your run-of-the-mill pinot noir.

Slow roasted New Zealand lamb shank
With curry roasted cauliflower, toasted garlic potato puree and pickled ramps.
Vino: Alpha Domus Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Methinks: Good combo, the vegetables were all awesome and the Merlot/Cab kept flowing long after dessert and coffee!

Pandan panacotta and custard soursop tortellini for dessert

Sorted. T’was truly a gastronomically imbued evening.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

He's where?

I’m sorry for the lack of posts this week.

I wish I could say it’s because I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my cutting edge, Pulitzer Prize-winning, in-depth article for Newsweek about the Vietnamese Mafia and their plan to buy out three quarters of newly released stock in newly established foreign multinational corporations with Vietnam’s newly-found WTO status, and they’re plotting to flood the market with inflated shares, just to punctually burst the bubble and become the world’s next New World Order.

Or that the Acet Past Perfects have been driven to a secluded marshland in the middle of the Mekong Delta for last-minute training, including “bonding” ala Kamp Staaldraad (in other words leopard crawling naked through bloodsucking leeches-as-long-as-your-arm-infested swamps whilst being held at gunpoint at 4 am) and gone through a rigorous process of emotional strengthening in a hope to reach physical and spiritual enlightenment before the charity football tournament on Saturday.

But alas, I’m not gonna lie to you: I’ve just been working my ass off as usual. Will update substantially on the weekend.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shards of a triumphant day

Like most reasonably memorable events, this one has a prequel, which started the previous night with the decision to head down to Pham Ngu Lao for a bit of pirate like behaviour without any real pirates present, just three teachers, respected by their students and probably not regarded to highly by their peers. I guess one could say it was a kind of Pirates sans Frontieres get-together, but in this case it was more like Pirates sans Pirates, so it equated to Vietnamese Rum sans Pirates (and without much of a charitable intention). But let us not get carried away in a prequel that can’t rival the Event Horizon the next day.

Saturday morning, 09:30: With two bellies filled with Al Frescoe’s Scrambled Eggs Breakfast, half-decent coffee and a head still swilling in less-than-decent-but-more-than-sufficient rum, Henno Kotze and Christoff Aucamp, aka Teacher Henno and Teacher Chris, traverse the lushly carpeted steps to the 3rd floor of the Sheraton Hotel to attend the Vietnam USA Society’s annual gala event known as “Teacher’s Day”.

They step lightly and intently into the banquet hall, the slight limp in Teacher Henno’s gait belies a prequel event that might have rivaled the event on the horizon, strangely, a slight déjà vu settles upon him as if this might’ve been mentioned previously as well.

The breakfast was a good idea, as an event that starts at 09:00 and only offers its luncheon at 12:30 is sure to contain a number of unpleasant elements in between of the sorts which could include delegates from different subsidiary and sister educational institutes globally such as Staten Island College or ambassadorial goodwill officers from the City University of New York, drawn-out, backslapping speeches in the presence of said delegates, chairmen, presidents, owners, co-owners, CEOs etc, not too mention incoherent and unrelated Windows Media Playered video clips of archeological dig-sites in Uzbekistan and worms sifted out of the mud from Chesapeake Bay or mutant, hybrid tomatoes that ripen but don’t rot for six months and having absolutley nothing in the slightest sense of the word related to Teacher's Day. These elements were included. Breakfast was a good idea.

Seated in clustered tables self-organised according to campuses, the Tan Binh crew, of which Teacher Henno and Teacher Chris were soldiers, settled down at an subliminally arranged laager of starched white, round banquet tables (Vietnam Veteran and history buff, Teacher Terry, must have organised the military vantage points and lookouts before Teacher Henno and Chris arrived).

It was to be a turf war, as the Tan Binh Campus Crew, otherwise known as the Ut Tich Dozen, named after the street in which their fortress lies (and still sporting various vestiges of the Tet Offensive decades ago, such as sooted canon muzzles found on the roof), would take on their arch-rivals of the Nam Ky Khoi Nghia stronghold, and the newly-statused headquarters of Khanh Hoi found across the Saigon River in District 4. There was also a handful of lesser battalions stationed across the city present, including the former command centres of Vo Thi Sau and An Duong Vuong as well as the allies in the guise of the Vietnam Australia Society, but the Ut Tich Dozen knew they were up against the wall, being posted out near the airport, the frontlines of the English teaching offensive, waiting for the barbarians.

It was a firefight in the form of a campus entertainment show, followed by a danceoff, as a Filipino Louis Armstrong trumpeted in the call to arms, with What a Wonderful World, the Spanish Satchmo reassuring Tan Binh that, like himself, being outnumbered didn’t necessarily mean being outgunned. Tan Binh made the first move, dropping bombs that would make Zach de la Rocha flee to his basement and mutter to himself “Will. I. Am.”. It was another veteran of the previous war who led his troops into battle. Hanoi Leroi lured the other campuses into a false sense of security, before looping the baseline with a “We Will Teach You” duet with Ashley “Food for Freddy” Mercury.

There was a breach in the other campuses' defence, Tan Binh took the advantage brought along by the momentum of their performance and crippled those who tried to resist. We had won hands down. The other campuses performances were lacklustre; an acoustic love song, a raincoat-inspired modern dance which was a tad to deep for Teacher Henno to fully understand the symbolism and gist of it, followed by a beautiful duet mourning the loss of life and the loss of love at the hands of the Dozen. The emotions were saturated and helped along by the bottles of Hennessey strategically placed on each table. It was, after all, just past nine in the morning so suprisingly by the time the waiters brought along the tumblers to pour the cognac, the Dozen had already ordered their second, followed by the third and fourth.

It was the fuel needed to dominate the danceoff; the fluidity and cutting edge dynamicism of the Dozen was unrivalled, donning sunglasses and flexibility, the usually stoic Sheraton banquet hall turned into a brothel of debauchery and Ao Dai-clad teachers turned into harlots and respectable, gentlemanly male teachers transformed into silk-tongued, arms-a-limbo cads.

The battle had been won, prizes were handed out. Teacher Brian and Teacher Henno were left in the dark, pondering their lack of success at the awards ceremony. Chris walked away with an Allied award from VAS as one of the distinguished teachers of the year, but he dropped his trophy on the way to the afterparty at the Lion Brewery.

Teacher Henno limped out with a swagger, slightly dejected at the lack of respect for his perhaps off-beat teaching techniques, but proud of his campus and co-teachers. It was a good morning, followed by a good day and evening.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The weekend that was

What a long, weekend. Friday night Brian, Christoff and I headed down to Pham Ngu Lao again to sample a little of the local speciality - Vietnamese Rum...dum dum dum, dum. Yesterday morning we had our VUS Teacher's Day party at the Sheraton Hotel - which deserves a whole post of its own to describe, but which I'm still recovering from so I'll do that tomorrow. This morning we had our final practise before the big charity football tournament, which sucked because we got our asses whipped by some patchwork team, and now I'm at work.

Luckily I bought some new DVDs for tonight, Crank, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, some arty Vietnamese movie called Spirits and last but by no means least: The Return of Jafar - an Aladdin sequel.

Meanwhile, you can check out my expat interview if you like for www.expatinterviews.com. If you're an expat or planning on becoming one, this is a cool site to check out what's happening in your country, dos and don'ts etc.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Soccer for the Streets

The Australian school where I work, Acet (Australian Centre for Education and Taining) have entered a football team for a mlocal charity competition organised by 15 May School, a local Vietnamese childrens charity here in Saigon.

Soccer for the Streets is a 5-a-side competition taking place next Saturday that has some big name sponsorships involved, including Adidas, Coca-Cola and Maersk. Our team is a mish-mash of staff and teachers and thus it's quite a multicultural team including Vietnamese, Englishmen, a Yank, a Canadian, one South African (duh) and a Scotsmen. We've been practising sporadically on Sundays (whenever we get an available field to practise on) and gasping and puffing through the two hour practises, with an occasional smoke break between halves for some. Yours truly will be gracing the forward right side with sublimal skill and a touch of class with the heavy weight and responsibility required to don the legendary No 9 jersey ala Alan Shearer (what a man he is). Hah.

We've been drawn with Maersk, some other corporate team and the Saigon Raiders in the group stage, which is a bit of a laugh because we just managed to scrape a team together and money for kits. We are...wait for it..."The Past Perfects" (only a teacher will appreciate the pun).

If you're in town next weekend, come around and support the charity and have a laugh with us (or at us) and watch some uber-unfit dudes stumble around and hack up a lung.
Come one, it's for a good cause...

November 25th - Tao Dan Sports Stadium, District 1, HCMC. Free entry, games begin at 09:30.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Like a worm

I saw some people blogging recently about the books they’ve read (Linka, Brian and especially Marissa who seems to read at a rate of knots) so I decided to try it as well.

Here’s a list of some the books I’ve read in the last few months ranked according to content and readability.

1) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke

Awesome reading. Clarke’s 19th Century writing style lends the novel such weight and credibility you feel like you’re reading a historical biography of English magic.

2) Imperial Ambitions by Noam Chomsky

Interesting information that you can gobble up in a day or two and impress your witless friends with.

3) The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby by Tom Wolfe

Classic Wolfe as only he can man - mind-blowingly detailed description of the who’s who and what’s what of middle-of-last-century America.

4) The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

Killer Kerouac – drinking, backpacking and philosophising across America’s West Coast in the 50s and 60s.

5) Wilt on High by Tom Sharpe

The follow-up to Wilt, Sharpe is damn funny as always.

6) Coldsleep Lullaby by Andrew Brown

Attorney-turned writer Brown’s attempt at a psycholical whodunit set dually in modern and historical Stellenbosch is good, but I think it lacks impetus.

7) The Triumph of the Sun by Wilbur Smith

Set in 19th Century Khartoum, the novel is good but lacks the cutting edge adventure of, say, Monsoon.

8) The Romantic Movement by Alain de Botton

An interesting attempt at analysing and categorising relationships, but lacks substance and warmth. I think it's too Prousty and would do better in a Philosophy 201 "Deconstruction" class .

Currently reading:

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Very interesting personal post 9/11 fictional attempt, but I’m not a big fan of this conscious streaming writing style

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

Looks like classic Kesey so far, will have to wait and see…

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Why you should always bet on “0”.

Chris and I went to the First Hotel’s “Bingo Club” again last night as our monthly payday ritual dictated. It’s an eerie feeling going gambling in Vietnam as it’s illegal for Vietnamese citizens to gamble, yet foreigners are openly encouraged wih the lure of a free buffet and cigarettes and the 20 hour-a-day office hours are appealing. But it’s an uncanny feeling sitting in a neon light-flickering, windowless oval-shaped hall, with the fake sound effects of rolling cascades of coins and excitement emanating from every corner , surrounded by half a dozen elderly Korean businessmen, rolling away hundreds of dollars on every spin of the wheel or jerk on the one-armed bandit, and beady-eyed staff watching your every move, plying you with drinks and urging you to plough away your hard-earned salary into their electronic recipients. The Bingo Club doesn’t offer bingo or even human dealers, just life-sized, automated replicas as croupiers at the blackjack tables, decked out with fake icy-stares and fake eye-contact. They’re like blow-up dolls for fortune hunters spreading their seed into the slots, hoping for a return on their fleety investments, complete with pre-programmed sympathetic comments and smiles such as “Oh, I’m sorry. Dealer has blackjack,” which happens more often than not.

Roulette machines are so much better than blackjack. Wealth wagered on the spin of a wheel, a denomination placed on a random designated area or colour, greedy eyes watching a tiny, white plastic ball, which, in any other situation would have been indistinct – an ephemeral object imponderable and trivial – gaining accent and importance as its revolutions around the polished, wooden roulette wheel increases in speed. As Ricky Gervais would say, “I can show you a graph here, where the significance of the ball increases with every lap around the wheel. Lines going up. And across.”

Doubt sets in, seeping through the beaded sweat, saturating the mind, as the little sphere slows down. Did I really place enough to ensure a profitable return? Did I spread my luck widely enough? Will the Voisins du Zero feel offended that I snubbed there attentions, vouching instead on the bleeding-heart nature of the little plastic ball who would feel obliged to grace the Orphelins with its presence?

With a scuttled-fish *plonk*, of all 36 numbers it could have chosen, the ball settles unnervingly on the green “0”. Koreans sigh whilst I knowingly smile. That’s roulette. I lost about 300 000 dong, it’s not really a lot, besides, it was worth it, and as sure as hell I’ll be back there again next payday.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Bad news

This sucks the sweat off a dead camels bollocks. Figuratively. I was about to post the pictures for the last part of the Street Style Propoganda Saga, nonchalantly sticking my memory stick into the USB port of this hell-sent computer, when *tadaa!*, up pops a Norton Antivirus message. Something in the line of:

Hello Henno.
This is not your lucky day.
I know you've been working really hard today but the kind folk here at Symantic have iced the cake for you.
Virus detected.
Quarantine failed.
Known infected files deleted.
Grrr. *click*. Roger out.

So apparently the *known infected files* happened to be everything I've saved on the flash disk since the beginning of last year seeing as I don't have a laptop or PC and have to smuggle around to an I-Net cafe or use the computers at work (as I'm doing now) to get my digital fix. So there goes all my work from last year's BPhil Journalism degree and most of my photos from the last two years. Thank god for Flickr, where I've managed to stash some of the newer ones.

In a way, it feels kind of liberating, not carrying all this excess baggage (the movie namesake, by the way, stars Alicia Silverstone and not Cameron Diaz which is a common misconception, resulting in many a drunken bet and copious amounts of beer flowing my way). It feels kind of crap losing some of the memories and hard work from the last year. It feels kind of sad that I feel the need to post about a piece of electronic equipment that faded on me.

Glass half full? At least I have a memory stick with loads of free space now.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Moving out of the quagmire that is the backwater

Well I guess the time had come to give in to the pull of technology tugging at the stained sleeve of this blog like a boisterous little child. The digitally and electronically literate of you must have been laughing in your own sleeves at the truly backwater (hence the name) nature of the technology on display here! Better late than never I guess. So those of you who’ve noticed, and those of you haven’t yet but will now, I’ve added a few simple things in the line of links and thingies and I’m bound to add some more soon as soon as I figure out how half of them work.

Firstly, I’ve added a photo roll from my flickr account, so my most recent photos will automatically appear on the sidebar – go check them out if you want – it’s easier than sticking a whole scroll (excuse the pun) of photos on the blog. Secondly, I’ve added a section of links from Vietnam – there are some really nice sites from locals and expats alike so do yourself a favour and check them out. I’m also slowly updating my links from my favourite South African blogs.

There’s also the Technorati link which tells me when my favourite blogs have updated so I can check them out – really convenient. Similarly, I’ve also subscribed to bloglines a few months ago but my lazy ass hasn’t added that link yet, but I will soon. I’ll also add my del.icio.us link (as soon as I figured out what the damn tag rage is all about).

Also, for those who really haven’t been here for a while, there are those cute little maps at the bottom which I’ve explained in a previous post.

Enjoy, and I’ll add the final, epic fourth part of my Street Style Propoganda soon!
Ho hay Democrats - keep 'em coming! First, the House, next the Senate - then the world! Bleh.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Street Style Propaganda Part 3: Apec Meeting

The Apec Summit is returning to Ho Chi Minh City in the next few days (11-18 November) and, like bugs from the woodwork, out come the billboards advertising the Trade Fair. Here's an interesting debate regarding the Canon billboards up in Hanoi in preparation for the meeting in the capital.

The billboards are mostly an eyesore and the Summit has a number of side-effects - for example, getting a visa or extending a current one for the period before the Apec meeting and the duration thereof is basically impossible unless you're a diplomat. Also, streets are cordoned off, nightclubs and restaurants are on a strict curfew (I remember the previous meeting where it was nigh impossible to find a club open after 12 as the owners feared police crackdowns and retribution). Hopefully, the meeting will just get over and done with and life will return to semi-sanity.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The 6-word story

Those of you who know me, know that I'm quite into fantasy novels, so it was cool when Wired Magazine asked 33 horror, sci-fi and fantasy writers as well as five designers to write 6-word science fiction stories. This was first made famous by Ernest Hemingway who said his 6-word story was one of the best pieces of writing he had ever written:

This is Hemingway's: For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Here are some of my favourites:

Orson Scott Card: The baby's blood type? Human, mostly.

Stephen R. Donaldson: Don't marry her. Buy a house.

Ursula K. Le Guin: Easy. Just touch the match to

Brian Herbert: Epitaph: He shouldn't have fed it.

Some of them are quite thought-provoking and I never knew social and political commentary could punch so hard with 6-words. It's the literary equivalent of Bruce Lee's One Inch Punch.
For example, Richard K. Morgan's: K.I.A. Baghdad, Aged 18 - Closed Casket

I dare you guys to try some and post them in the comments. I'll get the ball rolling.

He said it would last. Longer.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Street Style Propaganda Part 2: Independence

These are some of the billboards, banners and murals relating to Vietnam's independence from France in 1949 and also the "reunification" of North and South Vietnam in 1976. As can be expected, freedom fighting, soldiers and doves dominate.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Street Style Propaganda Part 1: Uncle Ho

Uncle Ho, after whom Ho Chi Minh City was named (previously Saigon), has been dead for a number of years and his legacy still lives on - on the dirty walls, in the beautiful parks and on larger-than life billboards around the city. His strong paternal instinct is often one of the most depicted subjects, showing him with the children of Saigon and the five rules he gave them by which they should live their live: They stuck them up on the walls (and still do in most schools) and the children had to recite them daily. Be honest, be modest, and be brave. They also concerned conduct towards your elders, parents, teachers and each other. Also, always take care of personal hygiene. I'm sure they were put more eloquently but that's basically what it comes down to.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Happy happy

Happy happy
Originally uploaded by HennoK.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Okay, out of total vanity and curiosity, I put these two hit counter things on my blog. But wait, they're not your average hit counters, they're actually world maps showing you where the people that visit this humble online abode are. Why two? Well, the first one, ClustrMaps , has a cooler map, and its little red dots grow as more people from a certain region click on it. The second one, IP2Map, has a bonus feature which shows you exactly where the last 100 hits to your site are from.

Why am I telling you all this? Because there have been some hits from strange places and others which are sort of a given.

For example: On ClustrMaps there are two BIG red dots - Stellenbosch/Cape Town and Ho Chi Minh City (duh who those are from - me, my family, Loesil, Emmie and any other burgies from my home town). Then there's also a large one from England - which must be dedicated footy man Al Burg - I don't really know anyone else in England - except Christoff's brother but he was here with us until yesterday!
Ps: My next project is taking photos of all the propogandha

Now, some hits I'd like to guess about: Bloemfontein, South Africa: My guess is it's Michelle, 'cause once again I don't know anyone else there except my aunt and uncle (and my famous cousin Dewald, but he's moved up to Joburg now).

Johannusburg and Pretoria, South Africa: Natalie, Alet and all the other bored Media24 prisoners.

Lakeside Marblehead, Ohio: Don't know anyone there, but it sure is a beautiful name for a town.

Switzerland: Probably Manon.

Centreville, Virginia: Wow, that sounds like the place the Powerpuff Girls come from! Don't know any superheroes though, except Christoff who transforms into the infamous Brandman after a few Rum & Cokes.

Oconomowoc, Wisconsin: Interesting name, I bet it has something to do with Bryan's family and friends?

Barcelona, Cataluna: I don't know anyone there, except the two Spanish guys from Barca we met here the one night when we saw the guy get stabbed in downtown Saigon. I hazily remember giving them my email address...that was a fun night.

Hong Kong: I guess it's Shiraz, the Persian/Paki (;p) who used to work at VUS with me.

So if any of you people are from any of these places feel free to confirm or deny, and if you have any guesses yourself, feel free to comment!
PS: My latest prject is taking photos of all the outdoor "media (propaganda) in HCM City so look out for so of that soon.
PPS: Happy birthday Ruth :)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Trof safe

I’m feeling quite ambivalent. I had to say goodbye to Nguyet Anh, one-time student turned good friend (one of only two Vietnamese I can really call friends). She left for London today to go study English and then business at the London School of Commerce today. Anh’s the same age as I am and, although I was her teacher, treated me as a friend rather then her teacher (the norm being to put your teacher on a pedestal no matter what age he or she is). I admired that and since then she’s taught me a lot about Vietnamese culture, showing me around and helping us buy things that are not easily accessible to foreigners (or who usually get ripped off) and even taught me some of the few Vietnamese words I know. Her English isn’t fluent but has improved a lot since when she was a student (about 5 months ago).

Although only 23, she owned two art galleries in Saigon (she had to sell one to finance the move to England), and was studying full-time as well, yet she always had time to help us if we had a problem that needed a local hand or local knowledge.

She came to say goodbye this afternoon and bring Christoff and I some gifts. She bought me a beautiful tie, some munchies from her hometown in the countryside and three paintings from her galleries to hang in our style-deficient house. And meanwhile we were the ones who should have given her a gift to thank her for all she’s done. I feel really bad about that.

The ambivalence sprouts not from her leaving so much or my lack of a farewell present, but out of worry for her in London. It’s not just the English that will be a barrier but, even though I know London is probably the multicultural capital of the world, the culture will be a big problem. No matter how big Ho Chi Minh City is, the modern Westernised culture is not as widespread as many people think. Basically, most Vietnamese who have not lived abroad are ignorant and innocent to the evil wiles of the Western world (similarly, foreigners are ignorant – yet perhaps not as innocent as exploitative - to the Vietnamese culture). The Buddhist principles of generosity and kindness are saturated in the culture here. Anh’s no different. She’s just a genuinely friendly, innocent girl exposing herself to a barrage of different culture and ways – yin and yang – and I hope she can take the positive out of the experience. I’ve survived Nam until now (touch wood), but I didn’t have to face a foreign culture and language on my own…but ce la vie, such is life, bon voyage and may the sun shine on your travels…

Anh and the lantern

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Old Hallow's Eve

It’s strange to think about celebrating Halloween in Vietnam, we don’t even celebrate it in South Africa, but hark! Behold! The Vietnam US Society decided an English Speaking Club for Halloween would be just what is needed to free all those language constraints and have the wee ones practicing their English in a “natural” environment.

Dutifully, being the good and student-conscientious teacher I am, I trotted around town on Saturday trying to find a costume, only managing to scrounge up a wizard’s hat and a glow-in-the-dark skeleton. The thing was, however, that I wasn’t working at the English Club, but only wanted to go take photos so it wasn’t actually such a big deal for me – there were two other foreign teachers who were the MCs on Saturday.

The Halloween itself was mind-numbingly boring. The activities sucked and were aimed at 5 year olds, not the 13-16 year olds that made up the brunt of the litter. Also, half way through, some Vietnamese guy (with no costume, mind you) decided it was his turn to run the show. He jumped on stage, grabbed a mike and started leading the kids in his own private, karaoke version of “The ghost says BOO!” – mind you all in Vietnamese.

This thunder-stealer carried on for a while, all the other MCs looking quizzically at each other, “like WTF?" and all the kids staring blankly ahead of them (this was probably the most Halloween-like part of the whole show – the kids’ zombie expressions). I reckoned this was all rather funny, but still went to the organizer and asked him to politely ask Mr Thunder-Stealer to A) Get off the stage and go home, kiss his darling wife good night and go tuck himself into bed or B) If he doesn’t see eye-to-eye with the rest of us, at least start doing the English Speaking Club in English. But all Mr Organiser did was sigh and say: “Oh, I’m too tired”. “Rad,” said I and went home and felt sorry for everyone still left there.