Friday, 28 December 2012

With a brush in Hoi An

It has been a lovely 10 days in Hoi An and I have  been busy with my favourite Japanese Moleskin as ever. 

There more to see and do in this part of Central Vietnam than you could possibly achieve in a month let alone 10 days but I have enjoyed doing  a number of things I didn't manage last summer in our 3 day whistle stop tour.

On day one I rented a bicycle which has made such a difference to every day in this lovely region. the land is completely flat, apart from the odd bridge, so even I was able to ride for 10 or 15 kilometres without too much effort.

The landscape just outside the main town is a patchwork of tranquil paddy fields which are still ploughed by man and water buffalo and the air buzzes with dragonflies just above your head. 

The pale ochre silken waters of the estuary are dotted with all kinds of wooden boats for fishing, tourist river trips and dozens of working barges which ferry the locals from island to island.

The local people are very welcoming and are justly proud of their fascinating heritage. Hoi An first flourished in the days of the early silk trade of the 16th century and each different trading nation from Japan to France has made its mark on the towns style and culture.

On December 26th the Full Moon was celebrated. This is a time for special offerings to your ancestors and every house and shop front had a table of food and wine with candles and incense burning throughout the evening.  There is a local tradition of playing Chinese Chess and on Full Moon night the elders of the town put on traditional Vietnamese dress and play by candle light outside all the temples and ancient monuments. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas wishes

A tiny little Santa Claus and a lotus candle
One of Hoi An's best lantern makers
It is Christmas Eve and, here in Hoi An, everyone has come out onto the streets to enjoy some special Christmas events. There is an open air concert of some traditional dancing and singing as well as some with a wonderful voice is singing some Abba hits and I confess, I was feeling a little wistful so I bought a lotus candle and floated it down the river to wish all of my friends and family a peaceful Christmas from half way across the world. 
Fireworks at the open air concert
All the lantern stalls were a blaze of colour and there was a real buzz around the town which has been rather quiet this week. I bought two lanterns to put up for 'Tet', the Vietnamese New Year celebrations in early February. 

The riverside
The streets are lit by lantern light at night

In the oldest part of town all the streets are closed to motorbikes and some to bicycles which all adds to the party atmosphere.

The night market on An Hoi Island

This is still the rainy season for this part of Central Vietnam and the town suffers from flooding. Tonight, the river actually broke its banks and I cycled through a few centimetres of water to reach the concert by the bridge. 

The largest remaining temple at My Son

Earlier today, I went to visit the ancient site of the Cham temples at My Son, about 50 kilometres from Hoi An. This religious site which is comparable to Ankor in Cambodia, was deserted by the Cham in the 1500s as the Chinese drove them south to the Mekong Delta. The whole area quickly became overgrown by jungle and lay untouched until the French rediscovered it in the 1890s.  My Son is older than Ankor by some 5-700 years and its architects used a method of mortarless brick building that repels any incursion of lichens and mould that still confounds modern day archaeologists. 

Unfortunately, this magnificent relic was mostly destroyed in 1969 by American Bombs during the Vietnam War  and now visitors have to walk amid deep bomb crators to view the 50 or more temples and monuments.

Bomb crator
It was the Germans and Italians who came into clear the site of unexploded amunition and land mines so work could begin on restoring the relics some day. 

Types of bomb that littered the site
Conservation works
 The French have extensive and detailed records of the site as they found it and the Italian government is funding some experiments to discover how they were constructed so that rebuilding can begin.

This site was established for the worship of Shiva, the three in one god who is the Creator, Conservator and Destroyer, the characteristics of all men. 

This Christmas let us wish for a more peaceful world in which we can all be more creative and conserve all the good things we have. Let there please be an end to mindless killing and destruction.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Jack Fruit

Jack Fruit lady 

I found this lady shelling Jack Fruits near a local market a couple of weeks ago. Initially I was attracted by the colours of all the fruits and flowers, the plastic stools, bucket and basket and her lovely outfit.  She was sitting working in the half shade in front of a rice merchant's shop and I began to recognise, as I sat and watched her, that she was shelling the mysterious Jack Fruit that I have seen for sale in the local supermarket where it is sold in as 'freeze fried'  fruit.

It is like eating crispy dried mango and is completely delicious.I love dried fruits but these crispy freeze-fried fruits are a delightful revelation to me. 

The huge Jack Fruits apparently grow everywhere in tropical regions but getting to the edible part requires some considerable work. I wonder why I have never seen it in the UK? 

While freeze-fried fruit is dried or dehydrated food but the process is different from traditional drying. Before the drying process begins, the fruit is frozen. It is then placed into a chamber that makes use of a vacuum to gradually extract the water content. Heat is applied in the chamber and set at a temperature that allows the frozen fruit to quickly thaw while the vacuum extracts the water. The end result is a dried fruit that retains the taste of fresh and also develops a crispy texture.


Saigon Sunset

The haze that was deposited on Saigon by super typhoon Bopha, about 6 days ago, still lingers and we are enjoying spectacular sunsets as a result.
Last night I went up to the top of the Thu Thiem Bridge to watch the sun go down and to record some video of the city and the Saigon River for you.

The Port of Saigon is a river port just like London and the Thu Thiem Bridge is the first one downstream of the docks so there is always an interesting stream of river traffic to watch. 

Dozens of workers and young lovers stop on the bridge on their way home from the city to take in the view. I  chatted to a young woman as I filmed and she proudly showed me all the sunset photos on her phone. 

The map shows the area affected by super typhoon Bopha which hit land in the southern Philippines in the region around Davao. The authorities are still trying to locate about 300 fishermen who went scuttling off to the Spratly Islands which are about two thirds of the way to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), as you can see. 

The blue line on the map outlines the disputed area of the South China Sea that China claims as their territorial waters. You can see it runs from Taiwan, declared by China as a rougue Chinese state and runs close to the territorial waters of three other countries. As recently as last Thursday, China asked Vietnam to cease its oil exploration activities in a disputed area. 

  • South China Sea has long been a bone of contention between China and several members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). China lays claim to almost the entire South China Sea including what is recognized by the U.N. as the exclusive economic zones of other neighbors, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei.   Beijing’s relations with Vietnam has grown worse in the past weeks over China’s decision to include in its revised passports an offending map, which shows Beijing staking its claim on the entire South China Sea
        • Source:

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Weather update

As I write, it is 9.30 pm and I am just about to snuggle up under the air conditioning unit with a good book. I am slowly plodding my way through Graham Greene's  'Quiet American' and savouring every paragraph. I have been dipping in and out for nearly a month now!!... pathetic really.

Anyway, as you can see it is currently 81 degrees ( feels like 87) and Saigon is dripping in the steamy wake of a storm that blew up from the Philippines and stirred up the air causing a kind of haze or harr over the city. It also got all the mosquitos excited and they have been feasting on even the toughest of natives. I, of course, am about to give up the fight......... I am constantly surrounded by citronnella candles and tea lights, moquito repelling incense and am lathered in every repelling lotion and oil you can imagine .......but still........... my legs especially look like some kind of battle ground. Ah well.

It the most effective repellent seems to be a fan...... the mozzies don't like a breeze. But they seem to be able to brave even that to dine on some delicate English flesh.

I had my first visitor from the Uk this week. It was absolutely lovely to be able to spend some time with a friend from home for a few days. I was able to show off Swinging Saigon ( as it was known in the 60s) and it all seems  more real, somehow, having shared it with someone close.

There will be more sketches and painting soon. The painting has taken an unexpected turn which I will share with you all later this week.