Friday, July 24, 2009

A Rooster Ruckus

Driving along on an article assignment I came across Rocky and his feathered friend not seeing beady eye to eye. The cockerel had obviously insulted Rocky when he offered to scramble his hen’s eggs for him. Rocky wouldn’t have any of it and asked him to step outside the coop for a minute.

As the waltz began, insults flew like roosters can’t, from the quality of their crows to the colour of their combs. Authorities were called in but were so entranced all they could do was stand and watch as the cockfight began.

Next, followed a game of ‘see who blinks first’. Rocky was first with a flurry of thinly feathered slurs like “Grow some eggs, chicken”. “We’ll see who’s a chicken, you cocky bastard.”

Then it began. Having been raised in a nearby monastery, Rocky was well-trained in the art of shaolin fowlin’.

“What did you say about my mother?” “She a fine bird, Rocky, just fine!”

Submission was never an option, but unfortunately the cockatrice was turned into a capon by Rocky, the far superior poultry specimen.

It was over, as fast as it began. Chums again, Rocky and the cockerel strolled off to the nearest coop, wing in wing, to see which hens they could impress with their battle scars.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Flour Power

Bot Chien is a favourite pre- and post-class snack for Saigon’s school kids and you’ll nearly always find a vendor eagerly parked outside a school or language centre. I first discovered it when I was working at a school up in Tan Binh District about three years ago as I headed outside for a between-class ca phe da. I saw dozens of little backpacked, black heads clamouring around a single steaming cart, elbowing for space and right of way. My curiosity piqued, I went over, towering over the children to see a vendor furiously scrambling, tossing and adding ingredients to a boiling hot stovetop, colours and flavours flying and I decided right there I had to have it.

Bot Chien is basically fried rice flour (bot gao), mixed with a bit of normal flour, salt and water. When it firms up, it’s cut in lego-sized blocks and fried in a super hot pan. Nui, or macaroni, is added for that extra carb hit, tossed with chopped shallots and onions and an egg is cracked and swirled in to add some consistency and colour as well as to hold it all together. It’s served on top of shredded radish with chilli sauce (tuong ot) and soya sauce (nuoc tuong) for flavouring, and yes it needs a lot, but nothing a bit of saucage overkill can’t cure.

This is a great hold-over between meals, when your stomach is just groaning for some carbs or, more importantly, a greasy hangover snack. From a parental point of view, it will ensure your lovely, darling child will turn into a lucky little Buddha faster than you can say ‘cholesterol issues by age 18’.The friendly vendor in this photo fries her trade outside Marie Curie High School in District 3 and the price for a non-Beer Lao t-shirt wearing foreigner is 10 000 Ho’s, VND.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

An Ode to the Raiders

A ragged bunch of mercenaries, battle-hardened warriors, drawn together from the far corners of the globe troop onto the field at the National University in Thu Duc District every Sunday in Saigon. A South African, a handful of British and Irish, Aussies, Scandinavians, Yanks and Europeans, all gleaming with the iridescent glow of sweat, toiling in the tropical heat or ubiquitous afternoon downpour, fighting for their pride, their fraternity, their band of brothers. Boots are laced up, shirts are pulled on and old war injuries strapped up as they enter the field of battle in high spirits. Staring down the opponents as the referee blows the battle horn. Commands and the call to arms are shouted from the stoic defence as speedy wingers and sharpshooting strikers take control, always against the odds, of a dire situation and slot goal after goal beyond the hapless and helpless opposition goalkeeper, and come out triumphant week after week.

Yes, it is the Saigon Raiders, the Saigon International Football League’s (once) premium football outfit.

Yes, that is one way to view these fine athletic specimens of sporting men. Another way would be looking at them as a dozen hungover, balding, aging expats chasing a round ball on a bumpy pitch in a foreign country, struggling with their weight and to keep their breakfast down. Haphazard defence tries to shore up errors from a midfield who have run half a sao (360m²) and couldn’t be bothered getting back to help their red-faced brothers. Strikers take potshots from 40 yards out and manage to put 2 metre tap-ins over the bar and blame it on poor passes. Arguments break out, either with themselves, their teammates, or the referee (oh, who would want to be a ref in a Raiders game!). Grown-ups act like children and stomp off, players fall over (dive) dramatically and howl in simulated pain, others try to decapitate the opposition with Cantona-esque flying kicks. A flurry of yellow and red cards are handed out, more shouting ensues. Litres of water are poured over simmering and steaming bodies amindst much coughing and spluttering. And that’s just the first half! Yes, the Raiders, languishing in mid-table of the SIFL for the past few seasons.

Yes, the Raiders! Oh, the multicultural team of my heart! How I love your fighting spirit, albeit sometimes amongst ourselves! How I love your witty banter and bold self-confidence! How I love our lack of aptitude and innate inability to score! Forward Raiders, as we sail our troubled ship towards the brighter tomorrow! May our crew steady the ship and trim the sail as we head towards the Arcadian shores of future pillage and success! I shall miss you (once I’m gone), Raiders of my heart.

A byword: If you’re interested in playing footy with the Raiders, as I’m sure you are after reading this glowing ode, let me know and I’ll hook you up!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

An Ode to Mr Wobbles

Yesterday some of my friends came over for a garage sale that wasn’t in a garage and it wasn’t a sale. I basically gave what’s rest of my house away to my friends and Ms Sau the cleaning lady who comes in twice for a few hours. Her name literally means Mrs Ugly in Vietnamese – some people have this tradition of calling their children ugly names in hope of the opposite becoming true or for good luck, methinks. Correct me if I’m wrong Vietnamese readers? I can’t think of any other reason for calling your daughter ugly. Off the point, basically I gave away heaps of clothes, furniture and appliances and kitchenware. I also gave away more random objects like a scorpion made out of bicycle chain and scrap metal and….Mr Wobbles, our cat.

Mr Wobbles is our street cat that we lured into our house when we first moved in nearly two years ago. I think he had another semi-home but he digged our place much more (did it have something to do with the fact that we feed him Whiskas and tuna instead of rice? Possibly.) so he’s moved in permanently.

Now, besides giving Mr Wobbles a loving home, we’ve also given her a massive identity crisis because she’s female but we didn’t know that then and the name Mr Wobbles just seemed to fit so well as this cat is seriously fat. I’m talking send her to kitty fat camp fat. We thought for about 6 months that she was pregnant and everyone around us was convinced too, except for the mysterious fact that she never gave birth. Turned out she had a massive infection in her uterus when Mr Wobbles started “leaking” from her nether regions. Yuck. Copious doses of antibiotics didn’t work so one night the vet came over for a “home operation”.

*Insert Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde clip* Cut to lab scene with ominous tools, lightning, an operating table, eerie music.

I, trusty assistant nurse, helped sedate the cat, tie her feet to the kitchen table legs and hold her still, while the vet shaved her fat tum, cut it open and pulled ALL her insides out and plopped them on the table next to her. She found this big fat infection, cut it out together with god knows what other essential innards and proceeded to poke all in intestines ‘n things back with her fingers and sewed her back up!!! I’m still mentally scarred and have done 657 Hail Mary’s to purge my guilty conscience for being part of this horror event. And it didn’t even work as she’ still a little leaky but we put a blanket down for to sleep on and I don’t think this infection will kill her.

Other than the obvious flaw in her internal workings, she’s a fantastic cat who is more like a loyal dog as she waits at the door for us to come home and greets us with lion-sized meows and follows us everywhere in the house. Other than that, she just sleeps and eats and can’t catch anything and poos in our bathrooms sometimes, erm yes. She absolutely loves Mrs Ugly who talks to her constantly and Wobbles follows her around on the days that she comes in.

I didn’t know what I was going to with Fatty, as she’s now known (so we’ve given her a weight complex too), after I move out tomorrow as we couldn’t just leave her to fend for herself. Luckily Mrs Ugly offered to take her, so come tomorrow Fatty’s going for a drive out of the city to her new home in Thu Duc District on the back (or possibly the front) of a motorbike! Go Eval Fatty Knievel! Whiskers in the wind! Woohoo!

Sarah and I will miss you Mr Wobbles. You are a wonderful (and fat and lazy) cat. We will get another obese feline in Australia and call him/her Mr Wobbles II. You have left a legacy.

Friday, July 03, 2009

What's going on?

Okay, since I last posted anything a lot of things have been going on. Firstly, the total inventory of our house was literally shoved into a corner; punched, pinched and prodded, stood on and shoved until it fit into 2.5m³. Okay, the bed and big bulky things stayed, but the rest – including 15 paintings, a bunch of clothes, millions of CDs, bric-a-brac aka miscellaneous goods from Nepal, Myanmar, Borneo, Thailand, Cambodia, South Africa, Oz and of course Vietnam, including all my maps (yes, I love maps and I have a huge bunch of them) all got abused into the corner like so:

The kind folks over at JVK movers came around and in about an hour everything was bubble-wrapped, boxed, taped and wheeled away. Like so:

I must say these guys did an impressive job, Chris Honour, who is the manager, was pretty good and relaxed about it all – and that’s hard for me to say because he’s also the manager of the heathen enemy – the Saigon Saints. Grrr. The name evokes fist-clenching, bowel shaking memories of blue-clad, pasty Englishmen running around trying to kick the opposition instead of the ball. They are no saints. You’ll need to be a Saigon Raider to understand the feeling towards these beastly characters. I hope I get one last chance to get at ‘em before I leave. Breathe…

Oh, we also had a kickass party at Le Fenetre Soleil, which was a farewell for us (more for Sarah because I’m still around until August) as well as an au revoir to everyone’s main man MJ. We got some Wacko tunes on the iPod and the night was spent grabbing our crotches whilst shouting “Hee Hee, Shamone!” It was a fitting tribute, I just wish we had a monkey.

What else? Oh, lots of eating. Yes. The Park Hyatt’s Prosecco Brunch on Sundays. An experience not for the faint of heart – literally – you’ll die from cholesterol poisoning if you have a cardiac condition. It’s also not for the narrow of tum. From shaved parma ham with rock melon, to seared tuna and a mountain of fresh oysters and smoked salmon.To racks of lamb, roasts and pork loin. To Caesar’s, pasta salads, shrimp cocktails, a bevy of imported cheeses with fig jam, nuts and freshly baked bread. All washed down with an endless waterfall of Prosecco bubbly until you’re distended and keel over sidewards and slither across the floor to the nearest taxi, leaving thundering burps and crumbs in your wake. Yes, it’s that good.

This was all followed by a number of nights where we ended up at he outrageously themed and façaded “Crazy Buffalo” over numerous bottles of tequila to such a degree that the staff felt like they needed to thank us for single-handedly launching their new bar/chillout/sanitorium’s profits into the stratosphere by giving us each…wait for it…a Crazy Buffalo t-thirt. Erm…grand.

Now I’m here on my own as my heart has flown to Brisbane and I have 5 weeks of soulless meandering and thoughtless wondering to do until we’re reunited in Brissy as the locals like to refer to it. I’m catching up on my Aussie slang too and reckon I’m doing a fine job of it. It’s not hard, all you have to do is add a –zza or –o suffix to nearly everything.

As in – “My mate Wazza and I were feeling a bit crook one arvo so we decided to pick up a goon bag at the bottle-o to wash away our sorrow’s and had a bloody’ rippa!” Sorted. Oh and you have to be able to smoke buckets, a Brisvegaz specialty. I’m still working on that little nuanced skill so if you haven’t heard from me in a few weeks you’ll know I’ve succeeded and mastered the fine Queensland art of bucketeering.