Friday, August 22, 2008

Got goat?

When it comes to blogging, the adage of “no-one gives a shit what you had for lunch” is very relevant, but I’d thought I’d share this one time to make up for all those other times I didn’t.

My co-teacher Jason and I were roped into having lunch with the class we share this afternoon. First we thought we were heading to the bede (sic) hotpot, a joint on the infamously stinky Nhieu Loc Canal where transsexual waiters serve you, but unfortunately they only open at night. I guess it’s a kind of “from dusk til dawn” experience. Anyway, we ended up heading around the corner from our school to Lau De Truong Dinh – a goat hotpot establishment, specialising in all sorts of goat goodies, as we were soon to find out.

Things started out innocently enough, with barbequed goat meat and goat’s breast - this place's specialty - cooked on little clay tripods at your table. Now, the distinction between meat and breast may sound trivial to you, but I mention it because the textures are quite distinct. Despite being marinated in the same sauce and tasting similar, the meat has a, well, meaty texture and the breast is more…chewy, so the experience was more like munching away on a fake silicon tit. Served with grilled bitter gourd and ladyfingers this went down quite well. When new bowls were brought for the next course and our students shouted at the waiters to bring out four plates of pig’s brains, Jason (who was already on antibiotics thanks to a stomach infection) and I just shot each other a knowing look across the table.

Again cooked at the table, the big clay hotpot consisted of some distinguishable and mostly indistinguishable ingredients. As the broth heated up to boiling point, various leafy greens were continuously added along with button mushrooms and some bigger varieties, two kinds of noodles (pho and mi), lotus root, big chunks of taro, a big, yellow, wobbling block of tofu as well as sheets of tofu, and various floating, bobbing pieces of goat.

As the hotpot started steaming and boiling, the pig’s brain – which has the consistency of crème brule and the annoying habit of falling through between your chopsticks (try eating custard with chopsticks) – was added. Mmmm, I can still smell it. Hearty and nutritious, thick pieces of goat’s tripe, muscle and bone would surface from the murky depths of your broth, while eager students’ gazes silently urged you to have more. Chunks of cartilage, layers of what looked like the hide of the goat (minus the hair) and other unchewables secretly found their way under the table and on to the floor, well at least from my part. Sated and content, we rolled out of Lau De Truong Dinh, muttering fervent hopes that the establishment will accidentally become the victim of arson and burn to the ground to save the next naïve teachers from its wicked clutches. Actually, it wasn’t that bad, but just not what I had in mind for a Friday lunch.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Employ me.

Jobs, you gotta hate them – it’s in the contract. Show me someone who truly loves his job and I’ll show you a madman, an idiot or the luckiest summumabitch alive. The only thing that sucks more than your job is losing it. And that’s sorta what happened to me. Well, not really, because it wasn’t really my full-time (well as full time as the teaching industry be) job, it was in my field of interest I wish to possibly pursue as a career, but it wasn’t the one bringing in the Benjamins, or I guess what we in Vietnam call the Ho’s. Yet, even though it was my sideline “keeping my CV up-to-date” kinda job, it still sucked when I got this email from, first the editor giving me the heads up that she’s moving over to a rival magazine, and then the disastrous, email from the boss over in New Zealand citing various business schmizness terms like “economic downturn” etc as the cause for the sudden fall of the magazine. At least, the guidebook some of us VN bloggers having been sweating on has finally arrived. Anyways, anyone got a job where you get paid per word for transferring nonsensical thoughts into nonsense words?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The bugle call

To linger or loiter, dilly-dally, drag, lag, postpone or prolong. Whether it’s waiting for a rainy day, idleness, or indolence. An excuse by any other name would smell as rancid as a lazy, sweaty butt-crack plying its shady trade on the couch as an undercover kartoffel.

Thus, let me embark (once more!) upon the road which I have trodden thus far – with lukewarm results and blisters of note. To blog! Oh, blesseth the soul of Mr Berners-Lee, he who hath brought us such glory and prosperous wealth of mind in an era which, at times, seemed floppy-disk weary and Commodore bleary. Mr Berners-Lee, who has forced the task upon me to continue the journey of star and sickle, alt-key and enter. Let us, in times of grave peril, hearken to the call so as to steady the heart and shake off the yoke of procrastination and further disengage souls from more important matters. Let’s go.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Weekly Randomness

Here's a little mobile "Nativity/Crucifixion scene" I spotted vrooming around last Christmas. It lends itself to a number of captions, e.g: "Silent bike, holy bike" or "It came upon a Saigon clear", and, what has to be my favourite "Hark the Herald Hondas Sing". You get the point.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Weekly Randomness

You've got to love the headlines from the Vietnam News sometimes. Here's a cracker from the boys up in Hanoi.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Nepal Part 1: In the Valley of Gods

Namaste! This short greeting encapsulates Nepal. It surrounded us from the moment we got off the plane in Kathmandu and headed out into the freezing city, full of anticipation and relief after weeks and months of waiting, till the moment we dragged our weary, frozen bones back onto the plane 15 days later.

“Namaste! Where you go, sir? Want taxi?” “Namaste, want to go trekking?” “Namaste, come inside my shop, take a look.” “Namaste, want some hash?”

It literally means “I see or recognise the god inside you”. Sarah, I can understand, but me? What the hell do they see in me? Anyway, the greeting is everywhere. I think on any given day in Nepal you could find yourself muttering this phrase, depending on your mood, amount of eye-contact and social aptness, anywhere from a hundred to a thousand times a day.

Back to Kathmandu – the Valley of Gods. The city with its population of about a million denizens is nestled in the Kathmandu Valley, with Thamel, the tourist/backpacker area on the northern edge of the urban centre, Swayambhu, the Monkey Temple, away to the west, Patan City down to the south and the airport to the east, beyond which stretches the city of Bhaktapur. Driving down into the city bowl, we were met by a dusty haze hanging over the city reminiscent of a desert city like Cairo, despite the mind-numbing cold that we quickly had to get used to. We were warned that the traffic in Kathmandu was really bad, but coming from Ho Chi Minh City, it was more like a walk in the park on a fine Sunday afternoon.

Thamel, where we and most other tourists stayed, is a bric-a-brac mismatch of little bricked hovels (no more than hobbit hole-in-the-walls), tall, multi-storeyed guesthouses with rooftop terraces, and bright shops selling everything from Tibetan prayer flags, thangkas, trekking gear (think Gore-tex and North Face), Gurkha Khukri knives, yak wool and pashmina and a cornucopia of trance and hippy gear: hackey sacks, jester beanies, clothes, bongs, woven socks – all in Joseph’s Technicolor dreamcoat hues. If you’re a trancemonkey – this is Heaven. Thamel is everything you want in a tourist area – so much so that its possible to actually lose track of time and dawdle in this Middle-Earth meets Alice in Wonderland meets Alien Safari for years before realising it (the number of beared, dreaded, dazed old-timers we saw testified to this scary fact). The range of food is awesome too. From Nepali daal bhat, to yak steak, buffalo chilli balls, to Western pizzas and cappuccinos. Oh and one thing we really miss and need in Vietnam, which the Nepalis just get right: bakeries with sugar-free Western-style breads, croissants, pretzels and other goodies. Yum.

Walking down through the winding, potholed alleys, you’ll find yourself nearing the stupas of Durbar Square and, blinking, and rubbing the Wonderland crust out of your eyes as if you’ve just climbed back out of the rabbit hole into the bright sunlight, you’ll see more of the real Kathmandu, more colourful saris, and more poverty. The Square – the old court of the royal palace – is home to temples dedicated to a number of gods and goddesses, including the Living Goddess Kumari. Unfortunately foreigners are not allowed to enter the living quarters of the Kumari and have to vie for a quick glimpse through the temple window.

Near the Square is Freak Street – the 1960s home of the tousle-haired, tie-dyed hippies seeking enlightenment in Shangri-la, now just a skeleton of its bong-toking past, but still worth a visit.

The further you move away from the centre of Kathmandu, the more prevalent the poverty and pollution becomes, and as you climb out of the valley on winding roads, the smog lies low over the city. A beautiful city with an ugly face, its easy to get lost in Kathmandu without exploring the rest of this beautiful country.

When we were there, political turmoil with their upcoming elections (April 11) caused a lot of tension, with petrol stations being closed in answer to fuel hikes, daily power black outs due to load shedding and political rallies, especially by the Young Communists League, blocked traffic in the city. The newspapers were rife with stories of violence and threats in the rural, pro-Maoist strongholds and the army were on constant vigil. The election next week will decide the fate of the nation, as well as its out of favour king, as the electing of a new Constituent Assembly means their will be a rewrite of the constitution. I wish the best for this beautiful country and its beautiful people.

Souvernir shop on the streets of Thamel

A pipe shop on Freak Street

Joseph and his dreamcoat shop

Thangka Shop in Thamel

Rickshaw and monk

Woman coming out of a hobbit-hole

A religious festival in Durbar Square

A stupa in Durbar Square

Candy-floss monks

Kathmandu through Tibetan prayer flags

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Here are just two examples of some of the Engrish I see around town every day. I chose these two as they have the same sort of "The Simpson's Halloween Special" menu theme, or maybe that's just my own interpretation because Sarah just bought the full 18 seasons of The Simpsons on DVD (all for a whopping $30). Once again, sorry for the lack of quality, but I think you'll get the idea.

Macaroni with harm and cheese: AaahhHH!

Screambled Eggs: WooOOOoooo!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Weekly Randomness

Seeing as I've decided to entertain, well, probably nobody but myself and start blogging again, I thought it would be a good idea to introduce a weekly pic or two that I've snapped with my trusty, rusty Samsung mobile phone - don't ask me what brand it is: it's an E-something. Just a little taste of everyday life here in the big Ho Chi.

Please respect the effort made to bring you these Pulitzer-winning beauts as they were often taken at the greatest risk of bodily harm. In other words, I was driving my motorbike with one hand and trying to focus, zoom, hold still and snap some absurd scene with my other hand, mostly at speeds between 10 and 25 kms an hour.

These wonderful mobile photos will continue to be presented weekly until I drop my phone or myself from my motorbike for the last time. Either way, enjoy them while they last!

Tunnel Vision: Behold the xich lo (cyclo) driver delivering rolled-up sheets of randomness

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Postcard Angkor vs Angkor What?!

This is it. Rising out of the steaming jungle as you tuk-tuk your way past fruit purveyors, tourist buses and other tuk-tuk’s, the five towers of Angkor Wat jut out beyond the safeguarding temple walls, just beyond the massive moat. This is it, you think to yourself, one of those rare Indiana Jones moments, where you get to scramble over timeworn, venerable blocks of Khmer architecture in the overgrown Ta Prohm temple, or push the left eye of a Naga statue or Bayon head to reveal a secret passageway which leads you the discovery of the Hall of Bodhisattvas…oh behold the wonders of Angkor!

A World Heritage Site nearly a millennium old, regal Angkor Wat has stood the test of time to watch nations rise only to fall again and has stood proudly as religions have come and gone. Weather-stained massifs watch over the jungle of Siem Riep as sentinels and guardians, while intricately designed passageways and walls pay homage to Hindu and Buddhist mythology.

The austerity and monumental scale of the Angkor Temple Complex are palpable as hours, even days, are whittled away, inspecting every nook and cranny.

But, alas, you are not alone. No, it’s not the shade of Vishnu or Kali still haunting Angkor Thom or the spectres of long-forgotten Buddhist monks haunting the fields and buildings of Angkor. It’s something else, it’s…other people like you: tourists.

And this is the downside. I was first astounded by Jon’s exposé on the nature of the Angkor Temple Complex and now I’ve seen it for myself. This is the Angkor they don’t want you to see. Thousands of tourists descend on the Temples daily. This is the jostling, elbowing, kicking, biting Angkor. The souvenir-touting, Canon-clicking, elephant-riding, get out of my picture Angkor. You won’t find a picture of this one at any of the gazillion postcard sellers around the temple complex. This is commercialism at its sweaty, dizzied height. The, reduced, scarred essence of greed.

Peruse a detailed, weathered bas-relief, follow the design around a corner and *kadonk* bump into the lens of another Pentax-touting fellow. At times you just wish everyone else would disappear and leave you alone to explore in peace.

Erosion has caused large sections of the temple complex to be closed temporarily for reconstruction and in some places, sadly, permanently. Monks wander around with mobile phones and digital cameras (so much for discarding all your worldly possessions).

It’s a circus; nearly as much so as the town of Siem Riep. The “Angkor” brand has been cashed in on – there is even an Angkor Mart – with a very nice selection of imported chocolates and a range of French and New World wines to warm the heart of any wine enthusiast. Angkor this, Angkor that, it was a kind of overkill, yet inevitably so I guess, looking at the laws of economics: supply and demand. I can just see Smith’s invisible hand reaching for a cold Angkor quart, or changing the setting on his Cybershot.

Despite Angkor’s “I’m lovin’ it” commercialism, it remains – hidden beneath the mountain of souvenir t-shirts, row upon row of fake antiques and beneath the froth of Siem Riep’s cappuccinos and latte’s – one of the world’s most important historic areas for a number of reasons and hopefully this significance will not only be a footnote at the bottom of an Angkor advertisement.