Saturday, 1 November 2008

Another day at Dung's.

18/6 - Up for a shower, a manual, cold one and it does the trick and blows away the cobwebs. There's somemore visiting to be done today, someone has phoned to ask why we didn't go to see them yesterday. Dung's Dad is one of 9 and 7 of them live around here. Dung's uncle Hiep, finally got me fishing, but I caught nowt. He did thought and came trotting over with it dangling from the rod. We ate it for lunch. Yesterday's forgotten visitors were glad to see us and others called whilst we were there, to check out the ugly Englishman. Dung is a dab hand at sheperding me aoong to the next stop. We made it back for lunch and everyone is trying to fatten me up again, so I put my foot down and Dung promptly stepped on it. The fish here is smashing and as I said, very fresh. We were on the fresh, roll your own, spring rolls, made with rice paper and very nice too, even though I wasn't allowed to roll my own, Dung has seen me mess them up before. The day moved on and it is time to move onto An Binh, near Vinh Long. Dung has to be back at work on tomorrow. I think the family have spent money they don't have to feed me up. It has been an eye opener and a great experience. You don't get more Vietnamese than this.
We get a taxi to a street corner in HCMC and a minibus turns up to pick us up after about 15 minutes. I didn't know she had booked it and was ready to flag down any passing minibus that looked like it might head to Vinh Long. A ferry across the Mekong in Vinh Long and then a moto to the digs in Hoa Ninh. I have stayed here before, the people are smashing and chuffed to see me and Dung again. It's a chill place to stay. Dung is hungry, as always, so we get into a bowl of Hu Tieu, noodle soup, but the real stuff, not the stuff in a pot.
Another day done and it's good to be back in Vietnam.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Back to Vietnam

17/6 - Waiting in KL for the HCMC flight and being a clever lad, I left my Malaysian money in the bag I checked in. "Wally" springs to mind, but I have a big bar of dark chocolate I picked up in NZ, so I wont waste away and there was plenty of grub on the flight.
Into HCMC and my bag turned up. I wasn't convinced it would, I shouldn't be so sceptical. Out into the madding crowd, back in Asia. There are hundreds of people milling around, so I couldn't spot Dung, even though she is tall for a Vietnamese. Her brothers girlfriend spotted me, which I thought was very clever, as we hadn't met before. I'd forgotten how hot it gets here, but was reminded when I started to melt, I don't hold out much hope for the chocolate I have left.
Dung has invited me to go to her parents. How could I say no, but I didn't want to. They have come on 2 motos, one borrowed from Dung's auntie Ut, so I hopped on with Luan, her brother and he put my rucksack in front of him, no problem. We had quite a natter on the way to Duc Hoa, their home, which was good considering the traffic in HCMC is like a death ride. Luan speaks better English than Dung, we had a good natter about all sorts, football being a big hit. Dung's village is about 20Km from HCMC, so it took us about 45 minutes from the airport. Along the way the 2 motos were often side by side and everyone nattering. Riding motos is 2nd nature to the Vietnamese. Dung's home is down a track off the main road, about 1Km. Dung told me they are poor and the house certainly backs that up, but it's like going to my Mam's, everyone if very friendly and welcoming. I got the traditional tea and the introductions are made, then we are off to the kitchen for some lunch. 2 of Dung's uncles are here too, giving me the once over I guess. I was given beer and the rest passed the ruou around, rice wine. There is lots of Yo going on, the same as Cheers and drink up. It is a proper family meal, just like in the Grumpy Old Man's days and food is constantly dropped into my bowl, the custom. Everyone is making a big fuss of me, which is not how I like it, but it is good of everyone. After lunch we go to visit Dung's Grandad and Grandma. They live with her uncle, as he is the youngest and tradition dictates that is usually the norm. He is the youngest of 9 and gets a lot of land from his father for the trouble of looking after him. It looks like Dung's Grandad has had a stroke and he told me, via Dung, that he has been in bed for 2 years, but he still manages to smile. He wanted me to lie down and nap with him, but I managed to put it off until the next visit. There are about 10 others here, checking me out, Dung is good, fussing over her Grandad, in fact she makes a fuss of everyone and it seems very proud of me. Her Uncle Hiep tried to get me to go fishing with him, but there is too much going on at the moment. Dung fielded the barrage of questions and everyone is smiling and laughing, I don't know what she is telling them. Dung managed to move us on, back to her house for a nap, the girl is flagging a bit and so am I, but it is not easy to sleep with all the excitement around. I don't get too hot, as everywhere I go, someone appears to plug in a fan. It's like I have one tied to my leg.
Dinner is lots of food again. I can't eat like the Vietnamese, but am constantly encouraged to do so. There's squid, pork, fish, veg and Luan tells me to eat quicker. The rice wine is flowing, but I stick to a beer. Everywhere we go we get tea, but not always the time to drink it before I am moved on. Dung's Mam, Nu, is drifting around in the background doing most of the work, much like Khien's Grandma. She is watching me like a hawk. Understandable.
Next stop, Tu's, Luan's girlfriends. Her house is attached to a Buddhist temple, her Grandma founded after being released from American custody at the end of the war. She seems to have been a bit of a heroine and Tu's Great Grandad is famous throughout Vietnam for standing up to the French. I had better not cause any bother here!! The temple acts as a temporary shelter for poor people and there is a lot of faith healing going on, while I sit around watching. It looks very dramatic, lots of incense smoke and people flopping into monks arms. There is lots of fruit being dished out and I got offered loads. We stayed in the temple, sat on a bench/table/bed, it acted as all 3. Everyone is very curious and friendly with the whitey from Blighty.
Back to Dung's to settle for the night. It is poorer than I expected. There is not a lot of privacy. No need to shout "Goodnight John Boy" here, if you whisper it the house next door will probably reply. There's no upstairs in these houses, no walls to the ceiling and no doors, but it is very homely. The Dutch have a good word to describe it, "Gezellig".
Good night John Boy, time to kip.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

On the move again.

16/6 - I packed last night, so only had to get up and go, well checkout too. I dried my towel in the drier and lobbed my backpack into a locker and hit the streets to find some breakfast fayre, fair or fare and if none of that some food. Bacon and eggs for the second day running, but cheaper and better. How does that work Grandad? Beats me, just enjoy it. Soon it will be noodles or rice again.
Had a quick e-fix and it was time to hit the road to the airport. $13 on the bus to the airport. $30 on the way in, so it's not just the Asians that try the rip off. Checked in and my bag should go all the way to HCMC on its own, with no intervention from me. We'll see. The Kiwis hit you with an unannounced $25 exit tax, a sneaky little move that one. Creditcards accepted. Airport security here and in Aus it tight. I got pulled up because I never put my plastic bag with my toothpaste and deodorant outside my bag. The security bloke was a real dour bugger. I think he would have put me infront of a firing squad for being so stupid. The bloke infront of me had to take the perfume prsents he'd bought, out of the packaging, put them in a clear plastic bag, then repack them once through security. "What's that all about Grandad?". Beats me darling! Through without being executed and chilling, but without a beer. That's becoming a bad habit.
On the plane on the first leg back to Vietnam. It's an hour late, but that's not a bad thing, I've a big wait in Brisbane. In Brisbane, but no boarding pass as yet and the transfer desk is shut. Everybody seems casual about it, there's a sign on the transfer desk for Thai Airways saying go to the gate an hour before boarding, but that's not a lot of use to me, I'm flying with Malaysia Air, but everyone seems to think that is the thing to do, so I had a toastie and a coffee and chilled, then chilled some more, then headed for the gate. The Malaysia Air bloke eventually turned up, so I went over. Guess what he said??? "Go to the transfer desk." I should have known really. The transfer desk wasn't fast, but she was smiley. She said "Ah Mr Brooks, where have you been?" In the bloody queue love!!. Sorted to HCM now and we're on the plane, all but one pillock, so their bags had to be offloaded, but we got away an hour and a bit late, for KL. I have a 3 hour wait there, so it is tighter than Brisbane, but should be no problem. I told myself not to watch any telly onboard and get some shut eye, so I watched a telly and got a bit of shut eye. There was an ignorant Hindu bloke sat next to me, but I didn't let him get to me, I just punched him in the mouth. As iffffffffffffff.
He handed his packet of peanuts to his wife, across the aisle, which I thought was very nice, until she handed them back after opening them for him. Tosser.
I must be tired, using pillock and tosser in the same post. Into KL and the longest leg is done, just a short hop now to HCMC.

Nothing much to report on a chill day.

15/6 - the legs are tiring a bit, so an easy day today, dhobi and a bit of ironing, a walk and a chill in a pub that brews its own beer and very nice it is too. Just like a home from home. The food was good too, but I suppose lamb should be in New Zealand. The banoffee pie was a bit disapointing, probably because I wanted the apple and pear crumble, but they did it with whipped cream, not custard. Morons. I could have stayed, but didn't trust myself to stagger home. The pub is called Galbraiths, just in case you visit Auckland, it is worth calling for a beer, there is a good selection, there looked to be plenty of wine too, but I never tried it or it would definitely have been a bad stagger home, as it was I strolled back for a read, a shave and a shower, but probably not in that order.
I told you it was an easy day. I surprised myself by sticking to a plan, well more of an ad-lib than a plan.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Match day.

14/6 - Match day and Mick is picking me up around midday to give me the tourist tour before tonights kick off and a good job he does of it too. 1st stop was Mount Eden, an extinct volcano, I hope, but judging by the grass in the crater it is extinct. It's a great view from up there and Mick is an informative guide. I never tried to tackle the crater and a good job too, judging by the state of a couple of Yanks who came to the top looking like a couple of leaves of wet lettuce, well and truely knackered. I hadn't seen Mick for donkeys years, well 7, and we only worked together a few months, but it is like we are age old buddies. He has some good stories to tell and being Welsh, likes to talk.
Off for some snap next, Mick needs an energy boost. I guess down to Michelle. What he had will certainly put fire in his engine, Titirangi something or other. It has all sorts in it on thick bread. There was bacon, syrup, fruit and other bits and pieces. Kiwi food I suppose. I opted for good old fashioned mince on toast and I'd already had breakfast, but I am trying to fatten up a bit. Asia has dropped some weight off me. The cold climate certainly encourages me to eat, but it also stiffens me up, so swings and roundabouts.
Off to another hill this time, with a different view, logically and then off to the beach, with black sand, but a smashing place. It's about 20-30 minutes from Auckland. The surfers are out and there are some smashing waves, barrel or tubes or whatever they are called, but Mick reckons it is calm. These are better waves than Manly beach, but the beach is a bit tighter, not so sprawling and there are some dodgy looking rocks to clatter into. From what I've seen so far, this is a beautiful country and I suspect it will get even better away from the cities, although Mick tells me the rural parts are very rural and the people very rough and ready.
Back to Mick's now to dump the motor, so beer will be the order of the night around the rugby. Mick had a power nap, while I surfed. Michelle again I reckon. He's renting a smashing place, just right. Lots of houses in New Zealand, or around here, are single storey with good sized gardens, just right for me, but I don't live here. Mick had ordered a taxi before crashing and it came while I was still surfing the net and Mick was still trying to pretty himself up, in vain. A week wouldn't have been enough. Into the taxi and off to Eden Park, via the pub of course. There was a good atmosphere in the pub, some good banter and more English fans than I thought there would be, most are with Kiwis as the majority are ex-pats. A few beers and out to pick up a monster burger and it was delicious and just what the doctor ordered before the game and after the beer. I wish I could remember the name of the chain. Into the ground, which isn't big, so is quite choca and a sell out. it's a neat ground with both ends open, not good for NZ weather, but like I have mentioned, they are rufty tufties here. We are in the posh seats, so under cover whimps. The pre-match show was pretty good. Black knights fighting white knights. It looked like a draw to me, if that is possible in a battle. The game was good, I enjoyed it all. We were a bit overwhelmed by the All Blacks to begin with, but the English support was good and the team dug in. Both time they looked like getting hammered they dug deep and held in there. The Kiwi fans are super critical. They were winning by 15 points and booing the team. I was taken aback a bit, or would be if I understood aback. I think the fans are in need of a "don't take it so serious" injection. It has been a good night and we retired to the posh lounge under the stand. Anyone is allowed in, the people on the doors seem to there only to say hello and smile, it was very relaxed and a friendly atmosphere, good Grumpy Old Man material for the stuffy Brit equivalent. The Kiwis take the game very seriously, but before and after the game are very chilled. Perhaps because they expect to win before and afterwards they had. We had a couple in here, then it was off to a pub for a couple more. The social scene in NZ seems good news, friendly and relaxed.
Taxi time, so luckily, I don't have to tackle the hostel heartattack hill. I have had beer overload this weekend, so that should take back a notch on my belt.
The door was still open tonight, so I didn't have to cower before the big Kiwi doorman.
A good day all around. Thanks Mick.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Off around Auckland again.

13/6 - Up not to brightly and the weather is not so bright either, overcast and mizzle off and on. By the time I'd had my porridge and toast, both me and the weather had brightened, so I set off to go to Mount Eden and ended up in the Domain, a big park in Auckland. Another plan goes array. I left Mount Eden for Sunday. This is the most benchless park I've seen in my life. There's a big old tree full of yellow leaves even though it had shed a lot, this being the winter of Auckland. It looked very pretty and to enhance this even further, I parked my bum underneath it to eat the sausage rolls and custard tart I purchased on the way here. Very nice they were too, so I set my pack down for a pillow and had a read and an unscheduled nap. I was lying there contemplating the world and a loud yelling rose behind me. I glanced up to see a schoolbus full of kids yelling and waving atthe old fella lying under the golden tree, so I waved back and the volume went up a few notches. Sounds like a fairy story, with children, the old fella and a golden tree, but be careful who you are calling a fairy, especially in New Zealand. This strikes me as a place where men are men and fairies are very quiet.

The school bus was like a modernised version of the Vietnamese kids on their bikes, that I experienced with Khien on the Ho Chi Minh trail ride. It gladened my heart and gave me and the kids a big smile. Time to move on in case the police come and lock me up as a vagrant. I headed up the hill, no surprise in Auckland, and out of the park, back to dump my bag, as I'm meeting Mick, my Welsh-Kiwi mate later. With my load lightened, I set off for town. I did a bit of window shopping, but the England shirts were too expensive at $130 ($2 to the pound, roughly).

I'd heard Viaduct Quay is the place to be, so that is where I headed. It is certainly buzzing and looks like the after work drinking and nosh spot. The quay is surrounded by bars and restaurants and the water is full of very expensive boats. This is where the America's cup fraternity base themselves. It is very yuppy-like, in not too bad a way. I elected to go into the Irish bar for my fodder, but they had open fires blazing and it was red hot, so I settled for a Guiness, very nice too and then slipped around the corner to the Thai Chilli, a very good move. I had a green curry, there was lots of it and very tasty too. After stoking the engine, I headed on up the road to meet Mick in the London pub. I was running late, or would have been if I could run. I was only 10 minutes late, the pedestrian crossing here take forever, it's the same in Aus and I'm very impressed at how most people obey them. There was a live band in the pub playing jazz, but we didn't do much listening, I'm ashamed to say. Mick had invited a lass along from work, he was hitting on. We had a good laugh over more beers than I've had for a long while, thank goodness the bar closed at midnight, I'd had enough. Out of practice. I was surprised Mick was ready for the off too, but when I remembered the lady, I wasn't. I had the blooming hill to look forward too, but it flew by. It was good to see an old buddy and have a good natter. Michelle, the lady, is good fun too. When I parted from her and Mick, part way up Queens St. she seemed to be warming to Mick and I certainly warmed when I hit the hostel hill. It was late, so I had to knock up the doorman, in the nicest sense of the phrase, he was a big Kiwi. Then I hit the sack, a happy man.