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Challenge Accepted!

March 3, 2011

I meant to write something witty, clever and insightful, but between the sound of one of my flatmates talking on the phone, his music mocking me from the speakers and the rumbling distraction of the kettle boiling – I cannot focus, cannot lash nor dribble out quick-witted anecdotes, so I will hang my head in defeat and just say what I came here to say, dammit:

I’m participating in WordPress’ PostAWeek Challenge.

There I said it.

You know… brevity may not be my strong suit, but clearly getting straight to the point is bloody boring.

Hmph.

 

N

 

P.S. I really ought to start reading instructions. I’ve had to update this post twice already. Tag added? Check. Subscribed? Check.

Like a Water Buffalo in the Mekong: Ho Chi Minh City Research

February 26, 2011

Dedicated to Y.

One of my best friends is popping over to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) from Singapore for a mini-holiday (and yes, I am a little bit jealous). Let’s call her Y for brevity’s sake. Y is one of those travellers who has a guide book, is always prepared, is up for most anything and is basically a treat to travel with. Despite Y’s admirable organisational skills, however, she has asked me if I could do some research for her if I have the time. As I’m currently unemployed (someone please give me a job already!?), time is one thing I do have a lot of.

So I figured that if I’m going to be collating research for her trip, I may as well post it here just in case anyone else is interested. I have to just state at this point that I’ve only ever been to Hanoi and Halong Bay; I’ve never been to HCMC. The information below is solely based on research I’ve done. Hopefully, Y will give me some feedback later… maybe even write a guest post afterwards (hint, hint). This is all I have for now, but I’ll continue to add more over the next day or two.

 

GENERAL INFO

With nicknames like ‘Pearl of the Orient’ and ‘Paris of the East’, it’s hard not to expect quite a lot from Vietnam’s largest city and economic centre. The centre of this city formerly named Saigon is located along the banks of the Saigon River and is home to over 9 million people. The city was renamed after the eponymous late Communist leader Ho Chi Minh in 1976 although many still refer to the city (especially the urban districts) as Saigon. Over 90% of Saigonese (local inhabitants) are ethnically Vietnamese and about 80% of Saigonese are Buddhist.

The climate is tropical and there are two seasons: the wet (May to November) and the dry (December to April). The average temperature is 28°C and the average humidity is about 75%. International banks in HCMC include ANZ and HSBC.

 

MUST SEE’s & MUST DO’s

Reunification Palace:

Location: 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street

Hours: open daily from 7:30am – 11:00am and then 1pm – 4pm

Price: Entry costs 15,000 VD and free tours are available

Info: Built between 1962 and 1966, the palace was formerly the presidential palace of South Vietnam. The tank sitting out front is a replica of the one that crashed into the gates during the war. A trip back to the kitschy 60’s awaits within.

Cu Chi Tunnels:

Location: 35km outside of HCMC (around an hour and a half away)

Hours: 9am – 5pm

Price: depends on the tour you take

Info: this incredible underground maze of tunnels was constructed as early as the 1940’s and used by the Viet Cong during the war. It provided them with shelter, somewhere to sleep, eat and work. There are traps throughout the tunnel that are still in place and that is reason enough for guided tours to be mandatory! The tunnels are over 250km long and stretch all the way to the Cambodian border. There is also a shooting range there where you can test your aim with a range of guns including AK47s, M16s and machine guns.

Giac Lam Pagoda

Location: 118 Lac Long Quan, District 11

Hours: 7:30am – 5pm

Price: Free, but donations are welcome.

Info: Supposedly the oldest pagoda (1744) in HCMC, the Buddhist Giac Lam Pagoda has gilded statues and a 32m tall stupa. Don’t know what a stupa is? Don’t worry, I didn’t either (click here). It is regarded as a minor pilgrimage site for Buddhists.

Ben Thanh Market

Location: District 1

Info: Saigon’s most famous market, but leave it till the evening/early evening when things really pick up and come alive with food stalls and much more.

Benh Tay Market

Location: Thap Muoi Street in Cholon, also known as Chinatown (district 6)

Info: Here at Saigon’s biggest market, you’ll be hassled much less than elsewhere as many vendors are wholesalers. Have a look nonetheless and maybe grab a bite to eat from one of the food stalls (on the right as you face the entrance).

 

Other markets: Saigon Square (Nam Ky Khoi Nghia, D1) – on offer are clever copies, dvds, shoes, clothes, you get the picture. Tan Dinh Market (Hai Ba Trung, D1) – come here to experience a genuine wet market where the locals shop. An Dong Plaza (Tran Phu st, D5) – cheaper than Ben Thanh, here you’ll find mainly shoes, clothing and fabric.

 

MUST EAT’s

Bânh mi: oh god, now I really am feeling the jealousy. Bânh mi is the most delectable sandwich. I swear. The bread is a hearty nod to the French baguette and the filling generally contains grilled pork, do chua, coriander, chilli and mayonnaise. Do yourself a favour and pop by a roadside stall for one. You simply must have one whilst in HCMC… if not two or three. You’ll thank me later.

Ngon Restaurant: located on Pasteur Street (District 1) – good, traditional Vietnamese fare.

Banh Xeo 46A: located at 46A D Dinh Cong Trang (District 3). They serve one dish and one delicious dish only: banh xeo (Vietnamese rice-flour crêpes filled with prawns, pork and bean sprouts).

 

TRAVEL & TRANSPORT

HCMC’s airport is called Tan Son Nhat International Airport (or Ho Chi Minh City Airport) and is located about 7km north of the city and takes about 20 minutes to get to. To get there from the city or to get to the city from the airport, you have a few options: metered cab (make sure it’s a reputable company like Vinasun or Mai Linh and that they turn the meter on!), minibus, cyclo (motorcycle taxis) or a bus (bus 152; cheapest option although apparently not the most punctual).

Cyclo: rates are around 36,000 VD per hour. Make sure to bargain with the driver and clearly agree on both the price per ride (not per person) and the destinations before getting on! Tipping is appreciated.

Scooters & Motorbikes: If you’re interested in travelling like so many of the locals do, why not rent a scooter or a motorbike? You can also pay a guide/driver to take you around whilst you hold on for dear life behind them. Either way make sure you get a helmet and that it’s a decent one.

City Look Bus: this tourist bus will take you to HCMC’s most famous sights. There is a guide and the information is given in English. The tour operates on a hop-on, hop-off system, so you can spend as much time as you want at whichever sights interest you. Buses are air-conditioned and come by every half an hour, tickets cost 75,000 VD and can be bought onboard and the tour runs from 8am to 5:30pm.

ONE FINAL PIECE OF ADVICE:

When crossing the road, just go for it. As Kevin Donnelly was told by his scooter driver, Tran, “Don’t ever stop, don’t rush and don’t look at the oncoming traffic. Walk confidently and like a water buffalo in the Mekong, the current will flow around you.” (The Australian, 2010)

N

SOURCES & FURTHER READING:

Donnelly, K., 2010. Chaos Theory in Ho Chi Minh City. The Australian, [online] April 24th 2010.

Wikipedia

Lonely Planet

Travel Fish

Bootsnall

Come and Go Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City Airport Guide

iFly (airport guide)


I Wanted to Make a Skirt and Sew I Did

February 19, 2011

Before I moved into my new flat, I spent almost two weeks flat-hopping from Shoreditch to Limehouse to London Fields. It was while I was staying with the lovely Susanne* in London Fields, a quaint little suburb that I had never even heard of, that I stumbled across a shop called Our Patterned Hand. Tacked to their window was a sign advertising sewing classes. I’ve always wanted to be able to sew myself a dress or a bag or something, but alas, my experience ends with hand sewing back buttons that have gone rogue. This was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. Their classes include a ‘Learn to Use a Sewing Machine and Sew Your 1st Project’ (where you make either a cushion cover, a shopper or a gathered skirt) and a ‘Learn to Copy Your Favourite Garment’ class. As class sizes are small and spots tend to disappear fairly quickly, I booked myself into the next available beginner’s class right there and then.

Three weeks passed and the day of the class finally arrived. I’d made sure to have an early night beforehand, so that I would pose less of a hazard to myself and the outcome of the skirt I’d be making, but I was nervous nonetheless. The class was meant to start at 9am, but as one of the students was still M.I.A. and this was a beginner’s class, we waited until she arrived at 9:30am to begin the lesson. Definitely not Swiss that one.

Beneath the store in a little studio the four of us took our places around our sewing machines. We learned to prepare the bobbin, thread the sewing machine, adjust the tension and sew some basic stitches; terms and phrases that had not existed in my world an hour earlier. After a few rounds of practice stitches and only minor hiccups (I swear my machine was toying with me), we moved onto examining the skirt pattern and working out measurements.

We had been advised ahead of time what types of fabric to pick and how much of it to bring in (based on the length of skirt we wanted to create). The other ladies pulled out their beautiful colourful fabrics in nice, friendly medium-weight cotton for everyone else to have a look at and admire. Then there was me. I had rather ambitiously (or perhaps merely stubbornly) decided to use a lovely thin white eyelet fabric that was somewhat transparent and thus required lining. Like I needed the extra challenge. This meant that while everyone else was rapidly stitching away on their machines, I – the only utter and complete novice in class – was meanwhile rabidly swearing under my breath as the slippery lining fabric I had chosen slipped and bunched and otherwise defied me.

After a short tea break (cookies included) which gave us a chance to share a few laughs and exchange stories, we resumed our positions. We oohed and aahed periodically as one by one we reached tube-with-waistband status. Everyone was zipping around from work bench to ironing board (ironing regularly helps keep the fabric smooth and thus makes it easier to sew) and back to sewing machine. I was nervously racing to catch up after one too many… let’s call them ‘learning opportunities’. On the bright side, I definitely learned much more than I would have if I had decided on a fabric that didn’t need lining. The teacher was angelically patient and encouraging, telling me that I was doing a great job, that to be handling both lining and a skirt as well as I was on my very first sewing experience was impressive, that I clearly had a knack for this, etc… not sure if I agree, but it did make me feel more confident.

I was the last to finish, but given the added element to my skirt, I guess that’s unsurprising. An hour after we had been due to finish (or half an hour, given that we started half an hour late), I was the very proud owner of my very first sewing project. After thanking the teacher profusely for her help and her unwavering patience, I marched out onto the street where the Broadway Market was still in full force. The sun was shining, the air was full of the delicious smells of the market, I had a brand new skirt and a head full of plans to sew a thousand other things. Today was a good day.

 

 

OUR PATTERNED HAND

Telephonic Numerals 020 7812 9912

Electronic Mail ours@patternedhand.co.uk

Location 49 Broadway Market, London Fields (E8 4PH)

Grace them with your presence 10am – 6pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays) and 10am – 5pm (Sundays). Closed on Mondays.

Can’t be bothered walking? I’ve marked the tube and overground stations on the map above. Buses will get you much closer. Bus 394 drives down Sheep Lane (which runs parallel to Broadway Market) before turning onto Westgate Street (past the top of Broadway Market). Alternatively, buses 26 and 48 drive up Mare Street (get off just before Westgate Street).

Your pockets will be £40 lighter for their introductory project classes.

And? I highly recommend the beginner’s class. The worst part are the pre-first-stitch jitters, but once you get going you’ll be just fine! More advanced classes are also available. Give them a call, pop into their shop or shoot them an email if you’d like more info. Do it!

 

N

 

* If you’re looking for accommodation in London, I highly recommend staying at Susanne’s. She has two rooms available in her flat which is well-located just off Broadway Market in London Fields. She actually rent out her entire flat sometimes, and if you ask nicely, she just might do it for you. There’s a laundry machine, wi-fi, a kitchen, a small outdoor/garden area, a cosy living room; it’s almost like a home-away-from-home. Susanne is a friendly, helpful, easygoing host to boot. A word of warning: if you are allergic to cats, make sure to pack your antihistamines as there is a kitty-in-residence. Here’s her airbnb advert if you’re interested.

How I Found the Handbrake (aka Button Pushers vs Manual Readers)

February 12, 2011

A few years ago, my family and I went on holiday together in Australia. On the way to dinner one night, my dad remarked that he couldn’t find the handbrake in the rental car. We went over the usual spots (which was really just me asking, “It’s not there? How about there?” and him replying, “No, I checked!” over and over again). It was weird, but we moved on to a different topic. Whilst chatting I started to ask him about the unfamiliar buttons on the centre console.

“What does this one do?” I would ask whilst simultaneously pressing a button.

About four buttons into my exploration I found the handbrake. Suddenly the car was screeching and swerving and my mother and sister were screaming and swearing. When the car came to a halt, I turned to my dad and said, “Well, I found the handbrake”. This resulted in snickering from my dad and I – which then prompted more yelling from the backseat contingent and some more hee-hee-ing from us. When we had the good sense to finally stop laughing, I got given a piece of my mother and sister’s minds… especially my mother’s.

But hey. I found the handbrake!

The point I’m trying to make here is that I’m a Button Pusher. So here’s my theory…

I believe the world is made up of two types of people: the Button Pushers and the Manual Readers. Say for example that you’re alone in a room and you have to turn on an appliance. You’re unfamiliar with the appliance and there is no one around who can help you. There are buttons down the front of the machine, some of which you may recognise. Beside the machine is a manual for it. Do you read the manual or do you try and figure it out yourself?

Button Pushers figure things out by diving in and figuring things out as they go. Manual Readers, on the other hand, like to do their research before they do anything. Of course in certain situations a Bushon Pusher may actually read a manual or some instructions and in some scenarios a Manual Reader may just wing it, however, by and large, I believe we are either one or the other.

I am a Button Presser. Daughter of my dad, also a Button Presser. Much to the chagrin of my mother, a Manual Reader.

There are people who are hard to recognise as one or the other because they tend to rely so frequently on others for advice and instruction. I call them Followers. They don’t seek out information for themselves, but instead rely on what other people tell them. Sometimes they do this because they feel a bit insecure and feel that others know best. Some just feel more comfortable obtaining instruction/information from another person. Others I think are just plain slack. When push comes to shove though, Followers will fall into either one of the two categories.

It’s kind of like fight or flight with a third option for the indecisive.

I do not always react like a Button Presser. Sometimes I really like doing research. Sometimes I rely on friends or family members whom I trust and believe to be specialists in a particular area. Sometimes I plan things to within an inch of their existence (however, this is generally a result of me procrastinating to be honest). I do like figuring things out on my own though and I do love pressing buttons. It’s also how and why things like this or this end up happening.

 

 

N

 

Time to Reboot

January 15, 2011

Here I am starting all over again… again.

My bags are packed and ready or not, I’m on my way to London. I feel ill. Some people relish the thought of a fresh start, a clean slate, but I promise you that a good many of those people would feel just as queasy and panicked as I do now if they were actually faced with it. I want to vomit. Literally.

This year it’s all about taking responsibility. It’s about holding myself accountable for all that I am, all that I’m not and all that I become. I wasted a lot of time over the last few years blaming someone else for the pain I was in and the growing lack of confidence and direction I was suffering from. Truth is… no matter what someone else does or doesn’t do, it’s not their responsibility to take care of us or to ‘fix us’. This is a difficult concept for me to grasp as I am a care-giver; I enjoy taking care of others and helping them. I do it naturally… instinctively. Not everyone feels that way though. And some problems, you just have to fix on your own.

I have to find an apartment (sharing with flatmates as rent is astronomical in London), I have to find a job (doing exactly what I’m not sure yet) and get my life back on track. Me. I have to do that. I’d much rather help others and it’s not just because of that care-giver thing; it’s because when it’s your own life, your own problems, your own aspirations… it’s damn scary and I am truly frightened. I want someone to hold my hand, but there is no one and I’m just going to have to learn to lean on myself. There’s no one to hide behind anymore. I’m just going to have to stand there out in the cold and battle things on my own.

When things don’t work on your computer, you reboot and hope things work out. So I guess that’s where I’m at now; I’ve been through the ‘shut down’ and I’m trying to load back up again. And I’m really hoping that this time round, I’ll get it right.

 

N

Queen for a Day

January 9, 2011

I love holidays, customs and traditions which, as a third culture kid, you’d think I’d have had more than my fair share of exposure to. Alas, this is not true. Neither of my parents are religious (one’s a non-practicing Protestant while the other is a latent Buddhist) nor are they much into holidays. Growing up, we acknowledged/celebrated but a few (mostly ‘generic’ Western) holidays. Bit of a shame, I think. BUT it is never too late to learn more about our own traditions and I am going to do that and celebrate whenever and wherever I can! And when I have kids one day… they are going to be swamped with holidays and traditions whether they like it or not. Bwahahahaha!

Which brings me to my story… a few days ago I stumbled across a blog post that informed me that here in Switzerland – and on this very day – they were celebrating a holiday/tradition! I had never heard of Dreikönigstag before, so of course I asked the Google.

Dreikönigstag, which translates to Day of the Three Kings, celebrates the arrival of the three kings at Jesus’ manger twelve days after his birth. The day is celebrated on the 6th of January with the Dreikönigskuchen (the cake of the Three Kings). This so-called cake (which is actually a sweet raisin and almond bread) is comprised of a ring of buns/rolls with one additional bun/roll in the middle and a tiny plastic figure of a king baked into it. The bread is shared between family members and whomever picks the roll/bun with the king in it is king/queen for the day. The king/queen wears the crown that comes with the Dreikönigskuchen, is exempt from chores and gets to boss family members around all day long. Nice. Well, so long as you find that damn plastic figure and you don’t choke on it.

I would have been more excited about this discovery except for the fact that I was home alone and my sister was only due to arrive on Saturday. I could have just celebrated by myself, but despite very much liking my odds of finding the king… where’s the fun in being queen if you have no loyal subjects at your beck and call? Plus, the notion of celebrating by oneself is depressing. Refusing to be thwarted from realising my first celebration of this holiday, I bought the cake anyway and waited patiently for my sister to arrive.

Dreikönigskuchen… now with crown!


Saturday morning finally arrived and with it came my sister. We tore into the rolls one at a time and by her second roll, she had found the king… which turned out to not be a king. I’m not sure if the company that made the Dreikönigskuchen ran out of kings or what, but the plastic figure my sister pulled out of her piece of bread looked more like a Dutch lady holding a fan. In any case, with her gold crown on her head, the royal photo shoot began. Later, I cooked dinner for her majesty and washed up afterwards… which is what I normally do anyway… and come to think of it, there wasn’t really any bossing around either. I guess it’s slightly awkward and not as much fun when there’s only one person to boss around. She did, however, wear the crown most of the day… and all of today so far; she’s claiming that she ought to have 24 hours, not just part of a day. Fair enough, your majesty, fair enough.

The Dreikönigstag Crown


This is a tradition I will be repeating and a recipe I plan on learning. The bread, as it turns out, is really yummy!

 

N

A Crack at Plumbing (Sans the Crack)

January 7, 2011

Sometimes you can’t help but laugh at yourself. For the sensible, more mature ones amongst us this happens infrequently. For those of us who are commonly heard muttering silly things like ‘hey, why not?’ or ‘I can fix that myself’… well, it’s a little more often that we provide ourselves (and at times some fortunate onlookers) with a bit of comedic relief.

For about a month or so, I’ve noticed that the water has been taking quite a while to drain out of the sink in the bathroom that my sister and I share. It was irritating and – for lack of a more appropriate expression – it “grossed me out”. This morning I awoke feeling like the world was full of possibilities; I felt visionary-like. Oh, I have so many brilliant ideas! I will make a difference! I can conquer the world!

It was with this effervescent frame of mind that I marched into the bathroom to brush my teeth and have a shower.

“Huh. The plumbing is still acting up,” I thought to myself.

“Not a problem!” I rallied, full of rainbows and MacGyver-inspired gumption.

I sat below the sink and analysed with scientific precision the exact workings of all visible parts. By this I mean I unscrewed everything I found that I could possibly unscrew. I couldn’t figure out how to remove the central pipe and despite my best efforts to wiggle the blasted thing out, it wouldn’t cooperate.

Refusing to give up, I continued to stare at the different pipes.

Finally I spotted a rubber piece within the bottom pipe and thought, “Aha! Perhaps if I can lever that off with a… erm… [what would MacGyver do]… Aha! With this old pair of tweezers… then maybe something magical will happen and I will discover the source of the blockage and be a hero!”.

And so I did. Unfortunately, there was nothing more than a few strands of hair and measly traces of gunky stuff. Nothing at all that could be held accountable for the blockage. Several squares of toilet paper and a few cotton buds later, the pipe was somewhat cleaner, but clearly I had fixed nothing.

I decided to put the pipes back in place, but there was something strange going on and I couldn’t screw the final seal thingy into place. I panicked momentarily as I imagined having to call the local plumber; visions of me having to explain why I had been fiddling with the plumbing to a qualified plumber who no doubt would be thinking in his/her pristinely logical and ever-practical Swiss mind that I was a moron. He/she would probably have a good laugh about it over a coffee or beer with some friend of a relative of mine in one of the handful of venues in the area by 3 o’clock this afternoon. Did I mention that I’m in the country? In a very small town in the country? Where all my relatives know that I’m back in town within 24 hours even if I don’t call or leave the house? It’s crazy.

I calmed myself down and urged myself to figure it out. Lefty-loosey, righty-tighty… and with that, the seal began to move*. Unfortunately, all the frustrated wiggling of the pipes had loosened the horizontal base and I suddenly found myself holding the large main pipe… free from the wall… and dripping onto my lap.

Gaargh! I quickly jumped up, leaned over the sink and raised my hand to turn the tap on. Luckily, at that very moment as my hand hovered dangerously over the lever, my brain decided to switch on: I’m holding the pipe. So if I turn the tap on, the water will pour straight down and out onto… me. Brilliant. It was at this point that I began to laugh.

What had I been thinking?! I can’t just pull things apart with no idea of how they work and expect to fix everything and for it all to go back together neatly. Things never go back together neatly! It’s like a law of nature… or something.

After washing the pipe out in the shower (what the hell, I figured, I was holding it in my hand anyway), I attempted to resurrect the plumbing. Not fix it; just get it back to it’s previous slow-glug-glugging state. It slid back in at the base and I reattached all the pieces back together. I stood up again and feeling quite relieved, decided that I ought to test it. Just to be sure, you know? For a couple of seconds everything went brilliantly. And then… not so much. I slammed the tap back off and glanced at the water pouring out onto the floor.

Okay, I thought. I haven’t screwed it on properly. I tried again and failed. And again. By the fourth time I should have been exasperated, but I was too busy laughing at myself and luckily, this time I got it on right.

“It’s so odd though,” I mused, “why isn’t the sink draining properly? I’ve cleaned out all the pipes!”. I pretended to ponder the question just casually, you know, as one does in passing… no biggie, whilst deep down I knew that it was because I was refusing to concede defeat.

As I stared down at the sink in consternation, I realised what I had missed. “No,” I thought, “don’t tell me that all along…”

But it was. All along the answer had been right there. As I lifted the thingy-that-sits-in-the-hole-of-the-sink, out came a disgusting clementine-sized ball of hair**. Yuck. Luckily I hadn’t thrown the tweezers out yet. I couldn’t believe that I had bypassed eliminating the most obvious cause and had dove right into unscrewing every possible pipe that I could get my hands on. I’m normally a very logical button-pusher***.

One would think that this would teach a valuable lesson or two. Not to fiddle with things you aren’t familiar with and know nothing about. To call a professional. To not just pull things apart.

But not I. I will undoubtedly face another situation and decide to ‘give it a try’ myself despite not knowing how it all works. Why? Because this is who I am and that’s more than fine by me; I learn for myself and sometimes I can even laugh about it.

However, I will try and remember to start with eliminating the easily accessible “sink plug parts” of the situation as culprits next time before pulling apart the messy, more complicated bits. That was just silly… hehehe.

 

N


* Here’s a tip: if you’re like me and you find that you need to repeat “lefty-loosey, righty-tighty” to yourself in order to remind yourself which way things screw on and off and/or if you refer to various parts as ‘thingys’… you should probably not be fiddling with them.

** I just looked it up. Apparently it’s called a ‘basin stop’. And it sits in the ‘drain hole’. There you go.

*** I’ll explain my theory about button-pushers another time.