Monday, 26 November 2012

Sunday afternoon in Saigon

This church is just as pink on the outside as on the inside! I have to say - I found it quiet uplifting. I wonder if they will get round to painting the benches too.
I found this lantern workshop in China town. These huge lanterns had just been made and were out in the sun to dry. Inside they were busy painting more in preparation for the new year celebrations in January.
I think you must be able to hire these for special occasions. I looks more fun than a stretch limo.

I found it almost impossible to choose which rice to buy and there were five more stalls right next door to choose from as well! I just went for the most expensive at 60p for a kilo of high grade Thai Rice .. grown in Vietnam .
This must be the most delicious lunch wagon I have seen so far. Look at the way her food is stacked in the glass case. Top left inside the case are neat towers of perfectly cooked prawns.
The two big pans had delicious soups in them . 

You take a bowl of soup and then add noodles, vegetables, herbs and condiments to your own taste. this is known as Pho ( pronounced fur) and is the most famous dish of south east Asia.
This is Ben Hoa market, a very old chinese style building down by the riverfront in China Town. You can see one of the rice stalls bottom left.
Ah, back at Mekong Merchant to write my latest blog post. This is the view from my laptop today.

This wonderful establishment has free wifi ( fairly standard for even the most basic of street cafes these days), serves delicious wines, has a big breakfast menu and makes the best scrambled eggs on toast I have ever enjoyed.
Have a good week everyone!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

What? ..... No Seagulls?

A few days away from the bustle and heat of Saigon. I took a brown train from Ho Chi Minh City station for the one hundred mile, four hour journey to Binh Thuan. This little rail stop is about six miles from Mui Ne where I am going to spend 5 days alone with Graham Greene and my sketch pad. 

I am travelling with Viets who have a different view of personal space. What's theirs is theirs and what's yours is theirs as well. The train travels through an impossibly narrow single track corridor of dwellings,shops, barbers, wokshops, coffee shops, kitchens, bicycle repair, engine shops, bedrooms, chickens and dogs. 

After a while opening to suburbs, more space, warehouses, allotments, small holdings, a massive, massive river, factories, little local stations, graves,acres of rusting corrugated tin, brightly coloured houses, sidings, litter and rubbish everywhere, farms and plantations.

Sometimes we stop but there aren't any names on the stations. people get on but no-one gets off yet. Now rice paddies. The TV in out railway carriage is blaring ( are Viets deaf?) a selection of entertainment that is a good imitation of a Saturday night on the BBC circa 1976. Sleeping children. An old man puts in his eye drops, teenage boy picks his nose. Father nurses toddler, granny asleep with the baby, her feet on a plastic laundry basket full of food and provisions. An American veteran sits beside his Viet wife still so beautiful gazing out of the window at her homeland.

Food trolley selling hard boiled eggs, unrecognisable fruit, plastic bags of sugar cane to suck on. The lady next to me buys three eggs and a little dish of chilli salt which she offers to share with me. The Viets are so generous with their food. free bottles of water for everyone on the next trolley.

The landscape changes.Plantations of saplings growing amid raggy corn. Nick Cage in a very violent movie on the TV - Vietnamese subtitles. Hills look like slag heaps strewn with rocks and scattered with skinny trees.. Bigger hills overcast. Water buffalo in meadows each with a companion heron, cows tethered under tress, fields of dragon fruit. Nick Cage is covered in blood hurls abuse at a dolly blond in denim hot pants as the camper van they were pursuing speeds off into the distance. My fellow travellers gaze emotionless. Fruit orchards banana palms.

Arrive, A small halt straight out of a 1960's French movie. We climb down from the train all luggage being passed hand to hand. Walk across two railways lines that disappear off into an unknown distance. A girl checks my ticket and the two local taxi drivers vie for my business. No-one can tell me how far or how much it will cost we just set sail!

Wow - very swanky hotel! All the guests appear to Russian....... great.

Huge, unrippled blue pool, the sun loungers all have my name on them. Lizards on the lawn, Frangipani, Bouganvilia, dragonflies, tiny white crabs scuttle on the sand in the dusk,  shells crostle in the crannies of the breakwater rocks. Gekko chatters in the bedroom, cows trundle along the beach to wallow in lush watery meadows between the beach bars. Blue and green coracles on the beach come and go each night and dawn. Fruit seller girl with two paniers dressed, seemingly, only her smiling eyes show between her mask and the shade of her coolie hat. Luscious mangoes and spiney crimson lychees by the bunch.

NO SEAGULLS! No seabirds at all! Not a sound.  Humph.

I sit and draw the little boats.  The Russian tourists creep up behind me a peer over my shoulder, silently stealing a glance at my drawings. The fruit seller and a straggly straw hatted pearl vendor, the gardeners and the fishermen all come up to me at the front and squat down beside me just to enjoy the company for ten minutes or so, watch what I am doing and exchange a few words. they talk about me as if I am not there.......but quietly.. as if they know I am concentrating hard. Open and curious, smiling and complimentary in their simple English. Nosey like children. Uncomplicated companions with beautiful hearts.

I take a trip to the local fishing port about 3 miles away. Phan Thiet is the home of nuoc mam, the ubiquitous fish sauce that flavours the Vietnamese cuisine.  Nuoc mam is to the Viets what balsamic vinegar is to the French, butter to the English, cinnamon to Americans and sauerkraut to Germans. It is the ever present condiment of choice. It is made by fermenting anchovy-like fishes in vats for months and months and months. They catch them between August and October and the fishing fleet is vast. 

Phan Thiet estuary reminds me of old paintings of Whitby from the 1900s when sailing ships jammed together along the banks of the Esk. There are acres and acres of dark brown boats all with turquoise or peppermint green superstructures. There are no eyes on these boats. I wonder why not.  I thought all Viet boats had eyes on the bows. Humph...... no seagulls and no eyes. What's going on?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Bats and dragons

Slightly late, I know, but here is my Halloween offering. 

This gate is on the main road and marks the entrance to Hem Dinh Binh Khanh (the Lane of Binh Khanh temple) which I pass through every day as I come and go. The reason this is my Halloween offering is for the bats that are featured each side of the main archway.  They must have some spiritual or cultural significance for this particular temple. 

It may be that bats are more common in this little neighbourhood than elsewhere. One of the joys of living chez Jo is that, during the early evening hours, bats frequently zoom through the french doors that open onto the garden, and fly through the length of the lounge and kitchen and back out again, inspecting the interior of some of the light fittings as they go. They might be looking for new roosts I guess. I just love it!!! 

The roundels of red calligraphy might be a hangover from Chinese roundels which have been adapted and now contain words, or parts of words in the western alphabet,  The three I have detailed  appear to read 'Binh Kh Ahn' .. with Og from the start of some other word perhaps.

The dragons are pretty standard features on gates of this type, along with lions dogs and other mythical creatures. I have even seen a builders yard where you can buy them. Dragons seem so cheerful and these ones are highly glazed and twinkle in the afternoon   sun. 

In Eastern Asia dragons are usually portrayed as long, scaley, serpentine creatures with four legs like a lizard or crocodile... just like the two on the gate.  In Yin and Yang terminology, the dragon is Yang to the Phoenix Yin.

The dragon symbolises potency and auspicious powers such as control over water, rainfall, hurricane and floods. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength and good fortune.