Monday, January 29, 2007

"It'll be fine"

Ambivalence has always been an emotional weakness of mine – or strength depending on the context. I always have these rollercoaster events sequencing my consciousness, packed together in a tight-knit timespan leading me to think karma plays a large part of what orders my life. It’s like a poor fisherman who doesn’t catch anything for weeks wondering how he’ll provide for his family if it continues this way, then, as a huge storm strikes, the fish start biting by the boatful, and he has to decide whether to continue fishing, try to weather the storm and come home with enough food to feed the whole village, or whether to cut and run, to fight another day. It never rains in Saigon – it pours.

Sarah told me last year’s Tet festivities were special because supposedly it was a very lucky year that only comes around once in a blue moon (excuse the lunar pun). I think this year’s prelude to Tet is trying to even out the celestial imbalance.

Ambivalence ruled with an iron fist. Firstly, last Sunday one of my friends and co-teacher’s mother was in a horrible motorbike accident and things don’t look good. Then I met a really nice couple on Thursday who I went out with to the “Rice Throwing” restaurant (Com Nieu Sai Gon) where the waiters break clay pots of rice and toss them across the room which was great, only to have my motorbike snatched in a blink of an eye. By this time the inescapable feeling of destiny at work already started creeping up my spine.

On Saturday night, another friend and co-teacher’s grandmother died and Sarah’s brother’s plans to visit went awry only to semi-rebalance themselves later.

I found out I had to pay 14 million dong (about $850) for my motorbike and our plans for Myanmar were dealt another blow by a travel agent who mistakenly told us we don’t need to worry about visas only to find out later we only have 10 days to get one from the Myanmar Embassy in Hanoi.

This must be it, I thought, the wheel has turned on what could be considered a generally privileged and carefree year so far. But today I realised that karma always works with a plan. Energies flow in a certain direction but, as the Second Law of Thermodynamics states, cannot be destroyed so thus must be channelled somewhere and, in this case, returned.

Mr Hung and his daughter Tram from Kim’s Café were awesome with the bike fiasco, giving me until after Tet to repay them and Tram came with to the police and sorted everything out. They gave me a new bike nearly two months free hire as well. We met an awesome woman – Nhuy – who sorted out the visas in a flash and we’re getting our passports back at the end of the week (touch karma’s wooden coffee table) and I’m getting paid today. I can’t undo the terrible personal losses suffered by my friends, but I can give them words of encouragement and stand by them. What’s done can’t be undone or reversed but can be shaped into something less than terrible with the right frame of mind, which may sound offhandishly easy to say but I truly believe it.

My sister and I used to watch this show on the Carlton Food network called Jimmy’s Farm – about a successful chef from London who gave it all up to breed pigs and open his own farmstall in the English countryside. He faced incredible obstacles and challenges (not least of which being his gay rare-breed stud-pig who was more interested in shagging the bulls than the sows). When things were at their worse – the farm being on the brink of being repossessed - Jimmy would utter the immortal words in his broad London accent: “It’ll be fine.”

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Future looks bleak

A few months ago I mentioned how great it is to take the frenetic journey to work every day. Well, that feeling was shattered on Thursday evening in a heart-twrenching twist of fate that has left me hollowed, a shell, half the man I used to be, constantly wrestling with existential questions and not finding any answers. I’ve been wearing white since Thursday evening in mourning; as is the custom in Vietnam. I wander around in a stupor, an unbelieving daze, eyes glazed over, every free moment I catch myself thinking about my baby, the glint of her body in the morning, the purr she’d give me, the wonderful carefree feeling we’d share when we were together. It’s tough losing the one you love. My green Honda Future was stolen out of the ghetto in Le Thanh Ton that night. The night my baby went away. If anyone has seen my baby, tell her I love her, and everything happens with a reason. It was just not meant to be.

By the way, if I don’t post again in the next few days, you’ll be sad to know that Mr Hung from Kim’s Café, where I rented the bike, has beaten me to a horrible death with his walking stick, leaving me to have my fleshed slowly picked off my bones by the Pham Ngu Lao rat mafia. I’m off to negotiate compensation now. Wish me luck. Vaya con Dios.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oh man

I had a student a few terms ago who, while most students would utter the inevitable troi oi when things went awry, just sighed resignedly and said: “Oh man.”

That’s how I felt after just watching the Asean Football Championship match between Vietnam and Thailand from the My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi tonight. The first few minutes were bloody brilliant, the flares were burning bright leaving a red, misty glow over the grand stand, the stadium was rocking and even the commentators said they could hardly hear themselves speak. Tickets were sold out within half an hour of going on sales, fans queuing from five am the morning they went on sale and I thought; “Right, here we go, this is it.”

Bam bam, the opening skirmishes were intense, up and down the field. A few opportunities slipped through both teams hands…erm…feet. I was hopeful. It was truly frenetic football, reminiscent of South Africa’s Premier Soccer League - less skill then heart, but really entertaining stuff. Then Thailand scored on 28 minutes and my hopes faded with the waning enthusiasm of the 40 000-strong crowd. The first “oh man” of many rolled off my tongue.

Midfielder Minh Phuong took a great freekick towards the end of the half, but the drama-queen of a Thai keeper saved brilliantly to his right (only to roll around on the ground like epileptic headless chicken auditioning for a part in the D-Day scene from Shaving Ryan’s Privates for the first of many times). Vietnam even managed to win a contentious penalty but striker Phan Thanh Binh squeezed it past the right post. “Oh man” number three. Young Vietnamese footy superstar Le Cong Vinh, who’s like the sporting equivalent of Dan or Lam Truong, did show some moments of raw talent, African shibobo style, but just couldn’t finish the clear cut chance he got (he’d be right in any South African PSL team).

The second half started better, applying more intense pressure, but the Thai backline was made of kryptonite or something because the balls just bounced off them. Admittedly, Vietnam should have exploited the wings more, which was where my man of the match Bao Khanh and Cong Vinh were running their stinky red socks off, instead of playing up the centre channels the whole time, just to be blocked by the Thai Lex Luthoresque quartet. Thailand capitalised on a defending blunder and scored another goal half way through the second half. "Oh man" number six.

Towards the end the passes were just half-hearted, long balls played up to the two strikers, and the Thais easily regained possession, playing much more of a technical game. Vietnamese goalie Quang Huy was atrocious, his lack of skill matching the Thai goalie's aesthetically dramatic acting/time wasting ploys, which saw his astonishing, yet amusing headless-chicken-rolling-meets-the-tapdancing-frog-in-a-blender-slash-dying-drill-seargeant antics bordering on a full ten minutes.

I really feel for these guys - players and fans alike - after all, this is country is like my second home, but seriously, performances like this are going to keep Vietnam in 134th in the world, just above South Africa and Myanmar’s third team. They have the skill and talent, but it needs to be channelled and tapped in the right direction; the gung ho mentality needs to be balanced with some level-headedness and control. Oh man, good luck for the away leg in Bangkok this weekend.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Thought for the day

If “forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it”, as Mark Twain so eloquently stated, then by logical reasoning, is the turd you step in “revenge”?


Your results:
You are The Joker
The Joker
Dr. Doom
Lex Luthor
Dark Phoenix
Poison Ivy
Mr. Freeze
Green Goblin
The Clown Prince of Crime. You are a brilliant mastermind but are criminally insane. You love to joke around while accomplishing the task at hand.

Click here to take the Supervillain Personality Quiz

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Lantern Festival

I headed down to the Saigon Zoo last night to check out this lantern festival they have going at night (duh). Supposedly about 40 artists worked on the lanterns that are on display during January, depicting famous sights from around the world. It's only 35 000 vnd if you're in town and well worth a visit. Here are some of the pics I took.

Due to vast photographic talent and experience garnered through numerous shoots around the world for Discovery, NatGeo and the like, I have managed, in one stroke of Pulitzer Prize-winning genius, to capture the Sphinx, a Giza Pyramid, a herd of camels and the Eiffel Tower all in one photo

The Leaning Tower in Italy - this one at the Saigon Zoo plays a Dean Martin rendition of Mambo Italiano

The Taj Mahal

I'm not exactly sure what this is, I think it may be a Japanese water pagonda, if such a thing exists

The Easter Island figures got themselves mixed up in a spot of trouble, due to calling the minotaur's mother Zeus' biatch (and the fact that they can't actually run away or even move)

Elephants grazing in front of an Angkor Wat temple

Kong Kong: "Shiat, this ain't NY - I can see the Eiffel Tower from here!"

Pandas shagging in front of some Chinese monument on the Great Wall

Halong Bay looks more like a set from Pirates of the Zoo III

This is the Chichen Itza Mayan Temple in Mexico (note the illegal immigrants milling around)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Minor setback

Battle Cruiser. Boozer. Gaydar. Gay radar (which I only heard for the first time last night. Backne. Back Acne. Some words go well together and make wonderful little roll-off-the-tongue sayings. Two things, which just don’t go that well together, are “washing machine” and “passport”. Now, I’m not referring to my post before last about the metaphorical “washing machine that is my life”, but the real deal. The one that whirs and spits and splutters powder and fabric softener mixed with tangible, hot water in anti-clockwise revolutions. That one. And let me tell you, there’s no word like washport, or passwash or whatever you wanna come up with. They’re like chalk and cheese, which I’d like to write to the good folks at the Oxford Complete English Dictionary about suggesting they change it to detergent and important document.

It happened on Sunday, when Mr Diep’s, our good friend and landlord, younger sister came over to collect my clothes for washing (and I don’t want any grief from anyone for not washing my own clothes, I used to and still would if Diep didn’t insist his sister do it – and I pay her). I’d left the little book in my pants pocket by accident, was away playing football and when I came back – neatly balanced on top of a book, sat my sopping, sodden passport, ruffled like a mangy chicken, looking like something the cat dragged in, dropped in the bog and fished out again. I couldn’t inspect the damage just then so I just left it out to dry until this morning and muffled the screams in my pillow, biting my knuckles until the blood rage drained from my eyes and murder didn’t seem like the best idea since condoms. Actually, I’m pretty easy. After all, it was an honest mistake and half my fault anyways so I’m not that pissed off, just frustrated now. Bygones.

This Myanmar trip might just have incurred its first minor setback. The other problem is that the South African Consulate is up in Hanoi so it’s not just a case of heading over and asking them to take a look at it and make a diagnosis: “I’m sorry son, it’s not going to make it.” So, I think I’m going to take some pics of the worst pages and mail to it them. Hope it works.

Damn bureaucratic red tape. Whatever happened to exploring the world with a handful of coins, perhaps a pirate ship at your disposable, perhaps a peg-leg or parrot and a crew of able seaman? The world was your oyster. Pirates get more booty anyhow.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mission Myanmar

(To the tune of the BN Biscuits advertisements):

Myan-Myan, Myan-Myan,
Da daa, da da da daa,
Myan-Myan, Myan-Myan,
Da daa, da da da daa,


Travelling companion and good friend, crazy Aussie girl Sarah, and I headed down to Pham Ngu Lao to book our tickets to Myanmar (Burma). It looks like this thing is actually going to happen, static sheets for my tumble-dryer or not, much to my disbelief; disbelief as I had to buy a Lonely Planet Guide (after much haggling with the bookseller) for 80 000 vnd ($5) just to find where it was on a map and didn't really think things through when I agreed to accompany crazy teacher girl. Okay, I didn't just buy the LP for the map; it's got truckloads of other useful info and a handful of otherwise miscellanous facts.

Allow me to digress. Under the topic Dangers and Annoyances: Bugs, Rats, Snakes and Monkeys they write: "Monkeys, too, can get a little friendly in places. A guide outside Monya pointed out natural medicines for 'not shitting', 'shitting' and 'snakebites', but said that there's nothing for monkey bites. 'Monkey bite is normal', he said."

Great, one less thing than to worry about, as in Myanmar it seems "normal" to get rabies from a monkey bite, become delusional, sinking deeper into the mental deficient quagmire called insanity, foam at the mouth, get lockjaw and die.

I'm really excited about this trip though. I'm like a grade 6 boy at his first "dance" party; you know the kind, with the table with the snacks and plastic cups on one side, a group of brace-faced, hormonal boys standing against one wall mustering up the courage to cross the divide, across the frontier to the other extreme of the room, where girls try their hardest to ignore the boys secretely hoping they'll be the ones that are asked to dance first.

We land in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) from Bangkok on the 10th of February and are staying for about 10 days. According to wikipedia, Yangon literally means "run out of enemies" or "the end of strife". I sincerely hope that is the feeling which will float down like mana from heaven to rest like a feather on my shoulders. I also really want to visit the myriad of temple ruins and complexes such as the ancient capital Mrauk U which now lies in ruins as well the last royal capital Mandalay.

Yangon from:

Obviously, as if there was any doubt, Sarah and I sealed the deal with a bottle of Go2 Cafe's finest Vietnamese Rhum and a impromptu version of "Myan-Myan" the BN song. BN, interestingly enough is also the ISO 639 alpha-2 language code for the Bengali language, an Indo-Aryan language of South East Asia. You're never to old to learn.

I'll keep updating as Mission Myanmar progresses.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The washing machine that is my life

Sorry for the delay in the updates but I’ve been thrown into the washing machine with silent protests these last few days and I’ve just come up for air, clearing my throat and nose of the sickly-sweet detergent smell usually associated with hospital corridors and the Department of Home affairs, before I’m once again submerged under the hot, soapy wetness of my life.

I’ve always wanted to be one of those seemingly important men who are greeted at the airport arrivals lounge by a tuxedoed chauffeur holding up their name on a little board. Well, lo and behold, as I stepped off the plane at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok on Saturday morning there was my name; neatly printed on a little board held up by a very nervous Thai Airlines representative. First I thought it was some elaborate joke set up by my brother who lives in Bangkok, but the fidgety man quickly informed me it seemed very likely that I’d miss my transfer to Tan Son Nhat Airport here in Ho Chi Minh City, and I was quickly ushered to the departure lounge.

I made it in time, but paid the price of having my bag left behind, (it punctually arrived on my doorstep Sunday morning. In my secret heart I’d missed Vietnam the moment I left, in the same way I miss South Africa the moment my ears pop on take off out of the country and this feeling of homesickness was reinforced when the taxi driver dropped me off on Saturday afternoon. This place really is my second home. He obviously assumed I was some dumbass foreigner (I guess his judgement was spot on) as he could probably see the giddy excitement mixed with relief and exhaustion on my creased face, so, as any self-respecting Vietnamese taxi driver would do, he tried to short change the foreigner. I was too tired to argue and altruistically let him con me. It must have been good karma because I received such a warm greeting by my neighbours who all peeled out of their little houses to shake my hand and to babble something quickly in Vietnamese with fat grins on their faces. I was so happy all I could mutter was Chuc Mung Nam Moi (Happy New Year) and smile. My landlord Mr Diep – the man’s man, ladies man, man about town – and his family greeted me just as warmly and I knew I was home. The hollow in my heart filled up as my senses filled up with my neighbourhood’s sights and sounds, soaking it all up like a sponge that had been left out in the desert only to be rediscovered and dunked deep into the sweet oasis water: the Saigon air so dense you can almost touch it, the flitting sounds of children playing outside, women chatting over their daily chores, peddlers shouting their little sing-song advertisements of their wares as they cycled down my alley, it was all there as I drifted into a deep, fatigued sleep.

I finally caught up with some members of the undercover Vietnamese guild known affectionately by their followers as “The Teachers”. The rendezvous point was Sheridan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant in Le Thanh Ton Street. My fellow teacher Sarah and I were planning on making a Tet holiday motorbike trip around the north of the country but that’s now cancelled as her brother is visiting during this time. Instead, over a pint of Amber Stout, she uttered the totally ludicrous request that had me spontaneously crack up because of the nonchalant way it was resented: “Would like to go to Myanmar with me?” That was insanely funny, and of course after I nearly choked on my stout with laughter, I accepted. So for now, my pending Lunar New Year plans are to be hiding from the guerrilla groups in little tribal villages outside Rangoon, not pissing off the military government in Burma (which is Myanmar’s politically correct name) and keeping a watch out for Burmese pythons. I think I should stay away from Irish pubs in the future.

Monday and Tuesday was spin cycle day; being thrown into the deep end of the wash barrel as far as English-speaking future of Ho Chi Minh City is concerned. My school kindly hooked me up with a level 7 academic English class, amongst others, which is three levels higher than I’ve ever taught before. It was all transitive verbs and non-finites finiteness, but it’s going okay so far but we’ll see what the rest of the week holds. Sorry for this self-absorbent rant but I thought I needed to tell someone and this is my blog after all.

Now all I need to figure out is where the “off” button is on this damn demonic life washer and find the “on” switch on the tumble-dryer…

Friday, January 05, 2007


Three guesses where I am? Hmm, I think those not blessed with the psychic gift will need more like 20 guesses. It’s about 1:30 am and I’m sitting on Doha International Airport. That’s in Qatar for those not in the geography-loop, which is quite near Dubai on the Arabian Peninsula, sort of.

I’m on my way back to Vietnam to continue the proletariat task of making a living by actually earning money myself, how working-class *yawn*. I hope everyone had as awesome a holiday as I did with lots of those yummy holiday munchies lining their stomachs. Despite all the sadness and misgivings of leaving loved ones behind again and returning to this tantalising, intriguing country which is Vietnam, I am glad in my heart. A kind of contentment as to what the future can hold has been bestowed upon me as if to say: “There, taste it, that’s what it’s like, now go out and fetch it.”

I feel this last year I’ve grown not in physical stature, except if you count the rotund Friar Tuck holiday-belly I’ve delicately developed, but in, I cringe to say it, an emotional way. It’s easy to palm it off as something that just happens as you get older, but I think it’s more than that – I now actually understand what people mean when they talk about life experience. It really does effect your mental state, absorbing new cultures and experiences and I think the Vietnamese have facilitated in this burgeoning enlightenment inside me. Damn Buddhists, you gotta love ‘em. Then again, many of my friends and family have equally contributed to this process, although some of my friends tried extremely hard to take me three steps backward along this process with them on New Year's Eve.

No, I haven’t turned into some new-age hippy or a positivist philospher or some shit like that, I’m just being realistic. It’s there – a tangible future that you can shape for yourself. Moulding your own life and letting others help you mould it. Actually, I just think it’s my sparkly new LG S1 Express Dual Notebook that’s making me happy. It’s so rad. It’s got like a little fingerprint security thingy so no-one else can use it (unless they shave off my fingertips ala Seven). Gadgets. You gotta love ‘em nearly as much as Buddhists.

Well I’m stuck in this damn desert oasis until 9 pm tonight, which is like another 18 hours away so I might ramble a bit more later…Salaam alaikum as they say in this part of the world…wish they'd actually let me out of the airport so I can go explore it...

Dozin' in Doha

Wow, there's nothing quite like sleeping on a cold airport floor for a few hours to revive the senses. Before I left my brother-in-law gave me some good advice, saying I should take a nap on the carpeted floor of one of the Islamic prayer rooms, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Instead, after my uncomfortable sleep, I found a designated "quiet room", which is this darkened room filled with snoring, slumbering bodies and sloping chairs which unnervingly resemble dentist's chairs. Overcoming the backflashes of Steve Martin in Novocaine I actually managed to catch a few winks in the dentist chair, so now it's 09:30 am. Less than 12 hours to go. Eish.