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.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lots to smell at the market

Originally uploaded by hennokotze.

This is probably the stinkiest stall in the whole Ben Thanh Market - and it's not just the fish, there are other unrecognizable creepy crawly things. Thought I'd share that with you. If there was a digital scratch 'n sniff, this would be the one you'd email people you REALLY don't like.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Less than 50 days and a ride home

I can’t believe I’ve been in Vietnam so long. There are less than 50 days to go before I fly home for a well-deserved respite from the toils and troubles of Ho Chi Minh City. It’s not really all toil and really just troubles, but after 10 or 12 hours of giving class, most days engaging with children with unscrupulous manners, it feels like that sometimes. One of the coolest and also most stressful parts of each day is the trip to work.

It’s about 5-8 kilometers to District 3, where I work in the mornings from Tan Binh District , where we live, and each metre of the 15-20 minute journey is jelly-doughnut filled, action-packed amusement and gut-wrenching stress. But lets start from the beginning.

6:00 AM: Beep Beep Tra Tra Trraaa!!!, stupid cellphone alarm gets me every time; dreaming I’m somewhere cool and then getting warped into some weird scene that always has a garbage truck reversing towards me with this stupid alarm ring tone. Wash and groom; slick and spic as a tortoise with a mismatched tie and shell. Black shoes, black socks (the tie’s in the bag – don’t want it lagging behind in warp speed).

6:45: Push the bike out the green, iron front gate, “Xin Chao”: greet friendly neighbour lady in her beige one-tone pajama/all-day/leisure suit frying her Vietnamese vetkoeke outside our house - I haven't had the nerve to try one yet, just in case I have to spit it out and live with her death-ray glare every morning for the next year.

Vroom vroom, idle the Future in neutral (I’m proud of my motorbike – it’s a Japanese Future, unlike Christoff’s Chinese one, which is supposedly quite inferior - it's got something do do with the lack of reliability and gearshift issues). Up the alley, turn left and right, being careful to avoid the constant state of building and the subsequent debris strewn haphazardly in big mounds enticingly like BMX track ramps along the road. Gun it carefully past the old lady walking her mother (who must surely be a centenarian), holding her carefully by the elbow muttering under her breathe as the Future respectfully struts past. Turn into Cong Hoa Street and hit the vein like a mainline, sucked in through the neck, pumped through the asphyxiating exhaust fumes and maneuver out onto the opposite side right into Ut Tich Street, and count my blessings of avoiding getting mauled by the morning trucks insecting out of Saigon.

It’s a game of “open the gates” along Ut Tich, down to the canal, left and right swerving staccato obstacles like Paperboy (that old Nintendo video game) minus the newspapers. The traffic feels like a tongue twister - my bike the lubricant to keep the words flowing; red lorry, yellow lorry. Past VUS’ maroon tower (my evening school of choice and the previously-mentioned boisterous kids), down into the street solely for bikes running parallel with a festering, stinking canal – this is another game altogether. Three uniformed kids on the back behind their father on the way to work, a boyfriend dropping his side-saddled, mini-skirted girlfriend off at work and the cyclo drivers cycling along in the lazy lane: minor obstacles when you’re heading downhill, swamp air in your air, whistling Peebo Bryson’s Aladdin theme song A whole new world to yourself. Now I'm thinking; "why do old people take morning exercise?" They’re leaving for a better place soon anyways, "probably want to make sure they don’t cramp up in their box" – I dodge them anyway and smile the secret goodbye smile.

07:00: Varra boom boom, a few kilometers later I pull into Acet in Ngo Thoi Nghiem Street smooth as a local, alert and ready for the extra buzz of the strongest coffee east of Istanbul (which I know could never rival the original high - the freestylin', whirling ride there).

17:30: Hit the streets for the afternoon traffic rush back up to Tan Binh, which is worse than the ride down.

I’m strangely going to miss this for the month I’m back home.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Underdog status

Hmm, damn sports teams. I've always had a soft spot for the underdogs. When Bangladesh plays Australia in an one-day international, I always hope for an upset - and well, it happens sometimes as Bangladesh have proved. When the Bulls play the North-Free State mielieboere in their royal purple and yellow kits, my heart leaps when Yskas van Tonder or Dif du Plessis makes a break, on the off-chance that the "manne" from Hanover or Hobhouse, semi-professionals who do part-time work as reserviste, can pull one over the mighty Bulle.
It sucks however, when you make a habit out of supporting the underdogs as I have. Well, to be more honest and accurate, I never started supporting the teams because they were underdogs but because of the way they played their game and the passion of their supporters.
Western Province have never been true "underdogs" (except away at Loftus or at home in a semi-final against the Cheetahs) but the fans have never been a lot to bite their lip when things go awry - if Province aren't performing they'll let them know and the next game will be played to a half-empty stadium or less. Nevertheless, Province have always been a team that have tried their hardest to play attacking, running rugby, unlike certain other teams in blue who prefer stomping on their own players, and that alone is enough for me - effort to entertain. Besides this, I also live in the Western Province so I guess I couldn't change even if I wanted to.
Now Newcastle are a similar story. I've never lived on Tyneside and never even had a pint of Old Brown, but these guys have captured my heart from the moment they first started showing the Premiership on South African television. Form the heady, attacking football days under the management of Keegan, then Dalglish through the amorphic days of Gullit, the hope and glamour of Sir Bobby's reign, the abhorrent, better-to-be forgotten days of Souness, and the lacklustre period of soon-to-be-relieved-of-duty Roeder, it's been a rollercoaster ride through the whole spectrum of emotions for Newcastle fans - fans who, arguably are the most passionate football supporters in the world. It's tough supporting this team, with its lack of management clout and mercurial players (think Laurent Robert as a prime example).
Now McLaren. Ron Dennis' Formula 1 boys are similar to both Province and the Magpies in that they can be heart-wrenching to watch at the best of times and, just when I start to ponder my allegiance, along they come with moments of pure agression and racing brilliance from Kimi or Montoya and ponder no more. From Senna's days, they've been the team I've always admired in terms of not resting on their laurels and progressing the sport of F1 - always seeking new and exciting drivers and engineers who have similar aspirations. Things will be no different with the youngest double-world champion ever, Fernando Alonso, who clinched the title at Interlagos last night, joining the perennial underachievers next season. I've loved having Kimi at McLaren, but with him joining Massa at Ferrari next year and with Schumi retiring, I can't help but hope the Finn's bad luck and inconsistency in terms of reliability follow him to the Ferrari's paddock. Farewell Schumi, good luck Kimi and welcome Alonso - may the underdog status be enveloped and evaporated in the stinking vapour of your burning rubber and exhaust fumes.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Stompin' around

Hot diggidy dog
I'm a leaping frog
I'm a keen mean tiger on the back of a hog
Stompin' around
And I say, how rude is rude to you?

So here's the evidence - decide for yourself what you will. Me? Well to me it pretty much looks like the ol' Captain Gary's giving Hougie a bit of a Southern Ska Stomper innie kortrib or shoulder, but hey, that's just me.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

K on the up and up

Remember the Horsing Around post about how organised crime and drugs are hitting sport in SA and how Os du Randt may or may not be at the forefront of a Ketamine revolution in sports? Well it seems I may have inaccurately portrayed the fact that horse tranquilisers and amphetamines are probably of little use to athletes. Via Eyebeam Reblog, I read an article on how 18 chronically depressed patients were given Ketamine, and visibly cheered up within 2 hours.

Now see, I don't know if that was because they were imagining themselves in a hanamachi with three geishas in full attire tickling the small of their back (whilst still scuba-diving on their dodgy apartment floor), a few scantily-dressed Egyptian boys fanning them with palm fronds and feeding them globules of grapes, because Kate Moss was sitting cross-legged across their mid-riffs, lips slightly brushing their ears humming along to Pete Doherty's The Libertines, or whether - like other anti-depressants, it justs inhibits the uptake of serotonin.

Whatever the case - Ketamine makes you happy. So throw away the Prozac girls and boys and partake in the consumption of the only anti-depressant that, in only small doses, will have you holding long conversations with your refrigerator, skateboarding without a board and swinging from a toothpick. It's the breakfast of champion junkies, the special K, the Kesh, the Hoss hoss albatross - soon to be released at a pharmacy near you (make sure you're down with the lingo otherwise your prescription might not go through).

Monday, October 16, 2006


To keep with the literary theme - Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk has won the 2006 Nobel Prize for Literature. This guy is like the Turkish equivalent of a Salmon Rushdie-cum -Zach de la Rocha figure, having been charged with insulting the Turkish government and what-not. He follows in the footsteps of a Mr JM Coetzee.

Also check out Robin Rhode's work - Eyebeam Reblog suggest you Google him and check out some of his work - some of it is pretty amazing.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Loss of Inheritance

The Man Booker Prize winner was announced and I should have put some money on this - the 5/1 outsider Kiran Desai walked away with the coveted prize. Sure, many will argue that the judges decision, when it comes to book prizes, especially one offering such a prestigious and diverse selection, is, to say the least, quite subjective, but it still holds much sway in literary circles and it's a great way for a lazy person like me to set-up a quickfire Christmas list.

Although I haven't read Indian-born Desai's The Inheritance of Loss, the storyline and location seems to have some things in common with another Indian-born writer Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things - dealing with death, depression, and village life (with all it's nuances and intricacies) in rural India. I loved Roy's novel and the opening chapter still sticks out as the most vividly described scene I've read so far and it's no wonder she won the Booker prize in 1999. Desai also comments on globalisation whilst Roy is a strong social activist in India and commentator on the country's nuclear policies and the effect on rural villages which large scale hydroelectric power schemes have and will continue to have unless re-evaluated.

You can check out the short-list for the prize here. South African Nadime Gordimer's Get A Life was nominated for the long list but didn't make the short one.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Mid-Autumn Festival

Although I took part in a Mid-Autumn Festival play more than a month ago, this weekend was the real celebration of what the Vietnamese call Tet Trung Thu. It’s one of a few lunar festivals in Asia, but not the biggest. The biggest lunar festival is the Tet Lunar Festival in January or February depending on the moon phases.

I headed down to District One on Friday night to see what Trung Thu was all about. Let me first quickly give you some background and legends regarding the festival. Some say, the Mid-Autumn Festival is when the eternal herd-boy in the sky and his beloved weaving-girl meet (throughout the year they are separated across the heavens by the Milky Way) and their joyous reunion causes their tears to fall from the sky in a light rain called ngau rain. Curiously, some Vietnamese I’ve spoken to say it rains every Trung Thu and Friday was no different.

Of course, the central feature of lunar festivals is always the moon. Many stories and legends surround Trung Thu, including the famous Vietnamese story of “Chu Cuoi and the Banyan Tree”. I’ve heard many versions of the tale being told, but this is the core of the story which essentially stays the same: Chu Cuoi came from a poor family and when he was a young man he went into the forest near his village. He found two tiger cubs playing and one of them had injured (or even killed) itself. The mother tiger took some leaves from a Banyan tree and rubbed them on the mortal wounds of the cub who miraculously healed. Cuoi recognised the healing powers of the tree and dug it up and transplanted it to his house. He later became a powerful healer using the Banyan tree as the base for his medicines. He also married a beautiful girl, Chi Hang, whose task it was to water the Banyan tree while Cuoi was away healing or collecting medicinal herbs. One day Cuoi returned home early and Chi Hang had forgotten to water the tree so she quickly watered the tree and in her haste she poured dirty water on the magical tree. The Banyan tree duly uprooted itself and flew off into the sky. Chu Cuoi, acting quickly, threw his axe at the tree and held on. The tree, with Coui holding on for dear life, flew all the way to the moon where they can still be seen to this day; Chu Coui sitting under the eves of the Banyan Tree.

Trung Thu is traditionally a childrens festival and Friday night thousands of children were milling around the food and lantern stalls, enjoying the bright colours and jovial atmosphere the festival created.

Although I arrived as the celebrations were finishing, there were still some kids soaking up the excitement and stuffing their little faces with Banh Trung Thu; (mooncakes) pastry filled with sugary everythings, from Chinese sausages and eggs, to durian fruit and strawberries. They also loved the Banh which is like a snackwich-shaped waffle on a stick. Nearly every child had a traditional long den - a type of paper lantern with a candle inside. The lanterns often turn from the heat of the candle and cut-out paper figures inside throw moving shadows on the lanterns walls, giving the effect from the outside of a shadow-horse galloping, or some animal or person moving, inside the lantern etc.

This is also a lucrative time of year for the big bakery syndicates in Vietnam who mass-produce mooncakes and sell them, in pairs of four, by the millions. Thousands of tons of mooncakes are sold in the month preceding the Mid-Autumn Festival and many more during it. Kinh Do and Ha Noi bakeries are two of the largest producers and set up shop on every major street in HCM City. Their mooncakes range from cheap to the more exclusive - such as imported mooncakes from China and South Korea (a batch of four could set you back about (VND 500 000 or $32).

Although Trung Thu is all about the kids having fun with a lot of myth and history supporting the tenets of the festival, it seems as though consumerism and commercialism is also taking its toll just like it does with Christmas in South Africa and other westernised countries. I bet Pick ‘n Pay and Spar have already put up their Christmas decorations, painted fake snow on the windows and put Boney M’s A Christmas Collection on repeat?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Parky pleasures

I live just around the corner from Hoang Van Thu park. On a weekday morning or in the late afternoon it's like any other popular park in the world; packed with joggers, children and general stragglers out for a walk. Yet, when it rains or in the midday sun (especially on weekends), the park turns into one of those creepy, empty Stephen King-type scenes, complete with deserted amusement park rides and ethereal statues. The only life is the wind whistling in your ears and sodden walkways that crunch underfoot.
The place reminds me of this cultural village we visited in Soweto last year - the name eludes me - that was set-up by a Zulu "professor/soothsayer" who predicted a number of events in South Africa's future (eerily, two of which was that Africa would have a female president that year (think Sirleaf) and South Africa would have a female president by 2010) . It had the same strange, peeling and cracked effigies of animals and gods as Hoang Van Thu Park. The wierdest was the warning upon entry that anybody who disrespected, vandalised or stole from the village would be struck with such a disproportionate number of afflictions it seemed unfairly cruel (the last of which was that your corspe would lie out in the desert, fed upon by hungy vultures, and your sould would never know the comfort of heaven or even relief of hell). No wonder the people of Soweto forced the soothsayer to flee back to Kawazulu-Natal. Mob law rules.

It's not unusual to encounter some brave souls in HVT Park on these barren days though

Or otherwise justifiably sad-looking ones

Even the usually happy hippo seemed a bit peeved

Godzilla in Paris? Probably the sequel

Raai wie's 21?

Raai wie's 21?

(Disclaimer: Nie rêrig Alet nie)

Ek hoop dit was 'n kickass dag Delanie!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Hey Emmie - I saw you guys still need a few entries for the silhouette competition so here's my two cents worth, even though it's more a reflection than a silhouette...