Friday, 29 March 2013

River Life 2

Almost all medium to large boats in Vietnam these dramatic motifs painted on the bow. These 'eyes' are intended to ward off evil spirits and to guide the boats safely back to land.  

From the small amount of research I have done, it seems that this decoration is unique to Vietnamese craft in Asia and particularly in the Meekong delta and south of the country.

Some fishermen in Malta also paint eyes on their bows and some think this was a Phoenician or ancient Greek tradition. Apparently, there is no real basis for this particular idea. 

These square bows are typical of freight craft throughout Vietnam. The square head makes it easier to offload from the front and you can see these boats moored side by side along quay sides with planks going to each bow. Many of the larger boats have massive steel nosings on these bows to protect the woodwork.

All these boats used to have masts and beautiful sails but these days they are all motor powered.  Only in the tourist areas do you still find sailing boats.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Cambodia - extra

Just a quick post............. 

I founds these photos on the BBC News website today

Photo of Phnom Pehn  

You have to see it, smell and fell it to really believe it but these photos are great. THat is what good documentary photography is all about huh?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Eat yourself well

the Saigon Times publishes a weekly magazine in English. My favourite column is 'Remedies from Foods'  For me it brings traditional Asian remedies bang up to date for the 21st century and it is always an eye-opener.

 This week they cover Chili, ginger, honey, olive oil, tea tomatoes, vinegar yogurt and water; not bad for a one page article. 

Did you know that a cold infusion of chopped red chilis can be used to alleviate pain.Soak a flannel in the infusion and put it on the affected are for 30-60 minutes and repeat until the pain disappears. The chili stimulated blood circulation in the affected area and promotes healing.

We all know that ginger is god for tummy upsets but did you know it's also good for diziness? I didn't. Boil the root and drink the tea - that's all.

Honey can be applied to mosquito bites to reduce the swelling and itching. Nobody told me that and boy, for three months my body looked like a target in a firing range I had so many bites. I think I have reached a state of balance and harmony with the mozzies but I do need something to put on my ankles that is utterly regnent to ants .............. suggestions on a postcard please.

Olive oil makes an effective balm for joint strains and dislocations because Oleic Acid is an effective anti-inflammatory agent.

Did you know that the tanin in tea is a coagulant and tea bags can be applied to open woulds to stem the bleeding?

Carotene in tomatoes is good for soothing sunburned skin - just apply a few slices after the beach or a day on the streets of Saigon.

Rinse your hair with warm water and vinegar to keep dandruff at bay. as a child we had to use Vosene shampoo - gosh I can still smell it now - it was dark brown like Pear's soap and smelled like a sanitorium. Yuck!

Yogurt can prevent gum infections and associated inflammations - the only problem is that you have to hold it in your mouth for as long as possible to enjoy the benefits. Hmmm- not sure about that one!

Studies show that intake of artichoke can help protect the liver, lower the cholesterol level in the blood and blood sugar, stimulate the secretion of bile, relieve joint pain and facilitate urination. Artichoke drinks are refreshing and can boost the functioning of the liver.

The columnist has an entire tome on the subject of constipation as well - from banana and carrots to apples, oranges, cucumber and some seeds. I guess what is required is a balanced diet - almost anything can prevent or cure that particular complaint.

It's fascinating isn't it!

While I am here I am going to eat more Centella asiatica which is good for forgetfulness and fading vision in the elderly!

With thanks to The Saigon Times Weekly

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Single track travel

One of the greatest benefits of traveling by train in Vietnam is that it provides an excellent opportunity to take pictures of the beautiful landscape. You can also take good pictures of cattle and birds and can even capture the expressions on the faces of cyclists waiting at railway crossings or of workers in the field. 

With a better lens, I might even be able to capture a cluster of dragonflies in flight ('cluster; strikes me a very dull collective noun for such ethereal flashes of iridescence - but hey). 

This advantage is not afforded by British trains, nor French nor any others I have, so far, had the pleasure of riding. Why? Because they are not trundling through the countryside at an average 23 miles per hour - that's why.

This aspect of Vietnam Railways didn't really occur to me until I looked at my photos a few days later when I was surprised to find not a single blur of passing trees. As a result, I can take you for a 400 mile, 17 hour journey through South Vietnam.

Unfortunately our journey started at 23:00 in the darkness of Saigon's Station - Ga Sai Gon and we traveled through the night northward toward our first station stop ay the popular seaside resort of Nha Trang where arrived just after dawn.
Nha Trang station - track side

Shortly after we set off again, the breakfast trolley came down the corridor offering two types of hot egg; regular brown chicken eggs and white, foetal duck eggs.

The duck eggs contain foetal ducklings at various stages of maturity - not for the faint- hearted.

Eggs are served with a little handmade paper sachet of salt and black pepper for dipping your egg. My sachet was made from an old bus timetable as you can see!

Here's Pandy on her top bunk cracking her first of two fresh, hot, hard boiled eggs.

Our cabin mates were a couple of businessmen from Loa Cai up in the far North West of Vietnam. They were making the 31 hour, 700 mile journey up to Hanoi.

 As you can see, they are setting themselves up with a good breakfast of four eggs each. 

A peaceful pagoda compound by a river

The lush countryside rolls by our window. There are workers in the fields making an early start in the cool of the morning.

A woman is gathering her hay into neat piles before building a haystack like the one in the background here.

Rice paddies and fields of root vegetables, maize and corn.

modern irrigation systems criss-cross the rice paddies of Central Vietnam

A headland by a busy port

Getting into mountainous country now

A quiet road in the Highlands

This landscape reminds me of the Scottish Highlands

Typical Vietnamese family houses

Ah, 11am and it's meal time again for the boys on the bunks below.  they return form the kitchen carriage with two chicken joints and the raw ingredients for a piquant sauce; salt, pepper, lime and chilli. With a handy pocket knife, the younger mad sets about chopping and slicing to prepare the sauce.

A table cover of newspaper is spread out and the old guy breaks out the moonshine that he had kindly shared with us the night before. It was OK. Ot tasted like good grappa but was made from wheat or barley. Here you see the finished meal and two plastic cups ( left over from our morning coffees) of the hooch!

Proud of their efforts, many photos were taken and you can see the elegant hooch flagon on the floor beside them!

A duck farm

My word, is it that time again? 12.30 and it's time for meat and rice with some morning glory and some more hooch. Got to keep your strength up boys!

In the picture below you can see some graves scattered amongst the trees. There are more and more graves and grave yards the closer we got to Da Nang; a legacy of the war I suspect.

The photo above is remarkable because it shows a second railway track. We stopped and waited a little while here until another train passed by in the opposite direction.  The track soon went back down to a single line.

So, that's my whistlestop tour of the beautiful journey from Nha Trang to Da Nang

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Temples and the oldest profession.

I suppose it was ever thus; that the money lenders and prostitutes ply their trade out on the temple steps and its precincts are furnished with hostelries and ale houses.

Cathedrals used to be meeting places for foreigners, businessmen and tradespeople, promenades for the social climbers, somewhere to lobby politicians and they were also the refuge of the desperate, asylum for the persecuted and somewhere to find a sympathetic ear and maybe temporary shelter for the poor.

Phnom Pehn felt a bit like this to me. A walk along the wide riverside promenade will take you past glorious tree shaded French colonial mansions, the timeless Royal Palace behind its forbidding walls and lacework gates shimmering tourquoise in the midday heat, a long string of little restaurants and travel agents catering to the tourists, the famous Foreign Correspondent's Club with its open sided bar overlooking the promenade from its first floor corner, corner bars with their wicker armchairs spilling onto the pavement and constant stream of large cars, motorbikes and tuc-tucs roaring along the narrow main road that runs alongside the promenade.  All the same people who gathered on cathedral steps in days of old are right here on the waterfront at Phnom Pehn.

Along the pavements, mixed in with daily serving of fresh tousists are the over-tanned, ageing expat men who meet for brunch in the bars and keep the prostitutes employed in the afternoons and evenings. 

After dark the pavements become carpeted with poor women and their babies who sleep and play amongst the crowds as if there is no-one else around. They don't beg with open hands, rather, they languish a if taking the evening air or sleep in blankets with their little ones around them. Then, at about 10pm they all start to wander off, chatting and laughing with waiters and bar hops as they go on their way. 

The sex trade is ever present in Phnom Pehn. Bar 69, Best Bar, Bar a go-go, Mr. Butterfly, Candy Bar,Matilda Bar and so on.  The girls are lovely but they all have that blankness in their eyes that tells a tale of hardship, family shame and unhappy endings. In Cambodia, the duty of care and providing for the family falls to the girls and many of them come to the city as their last resort and enter the sex trade to earn money to send home to the family in the country. It's an age-old story isn't it. Click here for more detail: Phnom Pehn Sex industry

What struck me about Phnom Pehn is that it is a town desperately trying to persuade the rest of the world that it is a capital city. This 'beautiful pearl of the Mekong' was utterly destroyed in the series of conflicts and political disasters that began with the Vietnam War and ended with the shame of Pol Pot's  reign of terror and civil genocide. 

They have constructed sparkling, wide boulevards which have magnificent monuments at their intersections but for a town with a population that is only twice that of a medium sized English provincial town, everything has a touch of the 'white elephant' about it. Behind the boulevards and the gleaming promenades there is the usual bustle and chaos of any Asian town. 

Little markets block the streets to traffic, people sell hardware out of their car boots, fetid dumpsters overflow, naked children run with dogs as their mothers sell a limited range of meat, poultry, vegetables, fish and crabs.  These are not like the prosperous street markets of Vietnam where vibrant flowers and stacked dry goods rub shoulders with fresh produce, chicken and rabbits in cages and live fish swimming in bowls. 

I arrived in this city only 10 days after the aged and much loved king had been burned in a fabulous funerary temple constructed especially for the occasion while the king lay in state for 3 months. King Sihanouk ascended to the throne at the age of 18 and died at 92 so he was the one constant thread that has run through decades of glory and prosperity, fascist terror and genocide. That this little country has maintained its independence is a miracle. 

The sadness in the hearts of Cambodians is almost tangible. Sadness at the loss of a generation in the genocide. Sadness at displacement and the loss of 'home' under Pol Pot. Sadness at the loss of their king of 74 years. Sadness at the exploitation of their women in the garment factories and the sex industry. My charming tuc-tuc driver reduced me to tears with all the stories as he toured me around and opened his heart. At one point he said 'I just don't know what will become of my Cambodia'. He has no faith in the new king who, anyway, is powerless and, at the age of 55 has little influence or any diplomatic skills apparently.

The bus ride back to Vietnam was not as joyful as my arrival three days earlier. Now I could see all the plastic litter that lays  between homesteads, the cows wandering in the road don't seem as charming. The wagon loads of workers being shipped back to their villages have taken on a new meaning now. This had been a very long three days.