Short and sweet

Hello.  Now where was I?  On the verge of heading to India about a month ago, I seem to recall…

Well, India, Delhi, the Holi Festival, and the workshop I was running all went off well. Delhi is thriving, the weather was sublime, the food delicious and, as you’ll see from the photo below, I managed to pull off a mean impersonation of some kind of overweight commando at the end of an afternoon of celebrating the first day of Spring, in true Hindu style. Memorable stuff.

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On next to the UK, for some long days of meetings, but intersected thankfully by short snippets of quality time with friends and family.

Some of which took place in pubs and involved pints (I miss pints).

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There was even time whilst I was in London for some swapping of school day photographs on a night out with mates from the Merchant Taylors’ years, circa. 1985-1993.

One I can’t help but post being of our fly-by-night sixth form band, Orange Bud. Watch out music seekers, it’s not too late for a 40 year birthday reunion in 2015.

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And the past week has been back in Saigon, hosting the delightful Hellewell family, over from the UK shires.  Kathryn, James, Leo and Sam collectively took to the heat, humidity and cold beers over here with ease, and provided some wonderful times together (crammed in to my apartment as the seven of us all were!)

So “local” were the Hellewells, that they can now tick off ‘riding Vintage Vespa bikes in the Mekong Delta with the kids’ from their bucket list.

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Tomorrow I am off to celebrate a friend’s wedding up in Nha Trang on a stag weekend, over Easter I’ll be playing in a football tournament in Shanghai, and I’ll be up to Hanoi and across to Bangkok for work after that. On the cards for May currently is Beirut and the Philippines (both work) and planning out Martha’s 3rd Birthday party (very much in the ‘play’ category).

Happy Easter to you all and, next time, I promise some more words and less bullet points.

Chocs away!

Pausing for Thought

Saigon is hotting up once more.  Now I appreciate that, for many of you who drop in on saigonsays from time to time, even when Saigon is not “hotting up” there is a good chance that it still might be considerably warmer here than what other parts of the world have put up with for the past half a year.  Simply put, Saigon is always hot, except for the months we are now descending upon, when it slips sweatily into being really hot.

Time then for me to head West, first to Delhi at the weekend, for a week of work just as the country celebrates “Holi”-  the first day of spring (Monday 17th) – during which it is tradition to get splattered with coloured powder.  All of which makes for a pretty picture to stick at the top of a blog post.  Next Monday is also St Patrick’s Day – divinely timed, should Ireland come away with the Six Nations (rugby) trophy two days beforehand.

My ambition for Monday evening in Delhi next week is therefore to avoid too much pink and yellow hair dye during the day, and to successfully find a pint of Guinness in the evening. It’s not every Monday night you get to blend Hindu and Gaelic culture together in such a colourful way.

From Delhi I’ll then be in London for a week, and so I have put a special request in for blue skies and sunshine.  I haven’t been back there since last April so it should be a special trip.

It tends to be during travels across Asia – or in this case, back over to the UK – where time seems easier to manage and blogging easier to blog.  We’ll see.  In the bubble world of “normality” and home-life, in which we are each fairly permanently preoccupied, it can be so very easy to feel like the weeks run into themselves, Monday and Friday arriving too often.  With my daughters’ school terms laid out and my travel commitments in place, structuring the months ahead, it can feel like you are blinking away the days.

Pressing pause on life can be fulfilling, even if just for one minute.  And, on the verge of this particular fortnight abroad, and with just the one minute to bargain with, my considered moment’s reflection extends quite intuitively to the two little people in my life who unwittingly bookend each of my days (when they are living with me) so energetically, so innocently – and in Martha’s case, so clumsily – that the mere act of teeth brushing becomes in itself a protracted and yet hilarious episode, like an amusing out-take at the end of a movie.

Of all the interactions adults have to make daily with each other, whilst many give pleasure and satisfaction, so many result in anxiety and frustration, envy and politic.

My pause for thought is quite simple: let me pause and in fact send a prayer of hope that in ten year’s time, the internet still exists, and these words and images will be accessible and make sense to my teenage daughters.

For sure, when this happens, they may well have disowned their embarrassing Dad, but I hope they smile back at themselves…

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Dress down Friday

fun in the back of taxi

Who knew how much fun could be had in the back of a Vinasun taxi?

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“Smile nicely girls”

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Please don’t even ask me about the seat-belt situation on this particular journey

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Casting spells over the Despicable Me, the movie

Year of the Horse, belatedly

My last post on this site was pre-Christmas.  I spectacularly missed the opportunity of writing about my January 1st commitment to stop smoking (achieved so far with flying colours, by the way).  I then reneged on posting suitably colourful and joyous photos of my kids enjoying the Chinese (in Vietnam, ‘Tet’) lunar New Year celebrations last week, as well as the standard picture of my Tet tree in bloom, them performing in their Tet concert, and me pontificating on what the new Year of the Horse might all be about.  On which front I am still none the wiser.

February kicked off nearly a week ago, and my “No Booze Feb” pledge was underway (watch this space, at this rate, next month I’ll convert to Buddhism, take up sunrise yoga classes and become a caffeine-free, vegan) in earnest – and yet I just didn’t get round to documenting this very sobering moment in time.

If I’d had the chance, I would have regaled you sooner with the rather tragic weekend story of how a stomach bug last Saturday ensured my quick demise over a 48 hour period, during which I didn’t eat, and spent as much time in my bathroom in two days as the average person might spend in a year.  It was not pretty.

And then, yesterday, I flew up to Hanoi on business, to find the Old Quarter looking resplendant in Tet decor, and abuzz with a heady mix of local adults drinking Tiger beers from 9am, and kids dancing in the streets (for once, not crowded with bikes and traffic).

All of this I have failed to represent so far in 2014.  Such slackness is potentially, in itself, a fatal start to any new lunar year.  Even my Tet tree flowered 6 days late.  The omens are not good.

So, here, trying to make amends, and before I make a dash to Hanoi’s airport for my evening flight back home, are some choice snaps (none taken during ‘Vom-gate’ last weekend, you’ll be delighted to hear) from the past couple of weeks.

Happy New Year to one and all!

Flo wearing Martha's new doctor's glasses (a Tet present)

Flo wearing Martha’s new doctor’s set glasses (a Tet present)

Would you entrust your health with this aspiring future doctor?

Would you entrust your health with this aspiring future doctor?

Girls posing in front of Tet flowers

The girls posing in front of Tet flowers

The girls doing a Tet "workout"

The girls doing a Tet workout

Martha "articulating"

Martha “articulating”

Martha in Dolce and Gabbana

Martha in Dolce and Gabbana

My Tet tree on first day of blooming (about a week too late!)

My Tet tree on first day of blooming (about a week too late!)

Hanoi Old Quarter last night

Hanoi Old Quarter last night

Freaky mask anyone?

Freaky looking head figurine anyone?

Flowers everywhere you look

Flowers everywhere you look

See.  Told you.

See. Told you.

Flags as well...

Flags as well…

And that was my breakfast this morning (Ed - kill the pics, readers beginning to weary....)

And this was my breakfast this morning (Ed – kill the pics, readers beginning to weary….)

Walking in a Metrosexual Wonderland

Taking pics of fruit and veg - is this evidence enough I am embracing my inner "Metro"?

Taking pics of fruit and veg: isn’t this evidence enough that my inner “Metro” is alive and kicking?

That I even have a fruit bowl, is the first admission I’ll make on this rather “forgive me Father” Sabbath day journal entry…

Forgive me, for I appear to have rather over-embraced my inner ‘Metrosexual’ wannabe, released as it was yesterday like some kind of bottled up camp genie, deliriously happy at the prospect of all the indulgences available, given I was home alone for the weekend.

The early hours of yesterday began with feet firmly (despite the number of drinks I’d had that evening) wedged into hetro-man world.  I was in town, out with a mate from my football team.  All the raw ingredients for a “boy’s Friday night” were in play: games of pool, booze; sports talk; rock music – life was uncomplicated.

You’ll imagine my surprise then (or some won’t, as it would seem many of you clearly “outed” me as a metro-man many years back) when in a moment of mild panic yesterday evening, I briefly took stock of my day’s activities, which included the following:

  • Walking a neighbour’s dog, dressed as I was in sporty lycra and carrying a take-away macchiato coffee
  • Buying a purple scooter (albeit for my daughter however, carrying it under-arm out of the shop in my lycra, I did cut a mean ‘look’)
  • Ate a crepe for breakfast
  • Bought salad and pumpkin from a new local French épicerie (the salad was to go with the quiche – oh yes, that’s QUICHE – which I was having for lunch, and the pumpkin is so I can do a “practice” risotto today for a meal I want to cook on Christmas Eve – yes, that’s PRACTICE cooking)
  • Had a street-shave
  • Had a 90 minute facial (an “age reducing” one – courtesy of a voucher given to me by my friend whose dog I am walking)
  • Had a 90 minute massage
  • Bought a salt grinder (this can’t be the first time I have bought either salt or a grinder, but it felt significant nonetheless)
  • Booked in an appointment with a curtain maker for next week (am doing some refurbs in my apartment…come to think of it, even the word “refurb” in the same sentence as “apartment” qualifies me for yet more metro points)
  • Stocked up on oranges and limes to make festive cocktails
  • Re-arranged the Christmas lights in my apartment, and bought ribbon (honestly, I really did buy ribbon) to hang up my Christmas cards.

After this painfully illuminating audit and reflection, I duly made a dash for the pub, to find Steve and Jamie (reliable drinking comrades) in time for Liverpool FC, and their kick-off against Cardiff City.  At which point I rather over compensated for the turn of events that day, cramming in the “man talk” at breakneck speed.

Thankfully, the evening ended at 1am on my balcony, with Jamie and I and a bottle of Jim Bean, listening to The Cult and Nirvana and being wistful about the year 1991.  Phew.   A close shave…

Speaking of which, I have just been dutifully informed by my good friend Claude, in ‘SoCal’ (Southern California: the land where organic has taken over Christianity as the No. 1 religion) that, in fact, eyebrow waxing is the only true mark of the metro-man.

Eyebrow waxing seems off the chart, even in my most metro of metrosexual moments.

But…never say never.

In any case, I now realise that the source of such metro behaviour may also stem from living with two daughters, caught on camera last week playing with an early Christmas hairdressing playset (note the snazzy tool pouch accessory worn professionally by Florence, and Martha’s nonchalant day-dreamy stare, already the mark of someone at ease with the art of being pampered!)

"The usual, Madam?"

“The usual, Madam?”

Happy Christmas to you all wherever you are and, whatever your plans for 2014, make sure you take Claude’s sage advice for the New Year, passed on to me in between her sips of organic herbal tea: “It’s quite simple advice Tim, you either go big, or you go home”.

I’m off to walk the dog.

Colonel Sanders in Saigon

Guest Post by Martyn Barmby

Why would you fly 6,000 miles to Vietnam to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken?  Twice actually: once successfully and once with the bathetic failure of vegetarian falafel.

It’s not that I dislike Vietnamese food; I love it.  Nor is it that I lost patience with my badly wrapped Banh Xeos (“I would not smoke it, never mind eat it” was the withering review of my efforts).  It is not even the repeated faux pas of mixing the wrong sauce with each gorgeous parcel of fish, vegetables and the most fragrant herbs.  It is more about friendship with a dash of nostalgia and maybe a dipping sauce of stubbornness.

Uncle Cake encounters his first Banh Xeo one hour into the weekend

Encountering my first Banh Xeo one hour after arriving in Saigon

After what might technically count as a long weekend in Saigon I got a second taste of what our dear friends love about the place.  Although crossing the road in itself is as fun as going on your average roller coaster, Tim Bishop tours laid on a number of special experiences.

Heading out of the city into the Mekong Delta on scooters was an amazing way to see other sides to Vietnam.  Paddy fields and shrimp farms were dotted with reminders of the industriousness of the people here.  A woman has a steady production line that can churn out 30 kilos of incense sticks all from her back porch.  We stop for coffee and briefly wonder how so many men can be sleeping, chatting or playing board games in the middle of the morning.  It turns out they have been in the fields since 6am and will be heading out again in a couple of hours.  I guiltily suspect they might have more reason to question the industriousness of two people from Britain who are touring round the outskirts of Saigon eating a range of local shellfish, drinking coffee and watching other people make incense sticks.  We hastily smile, wave and move on.

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Incense making in the Mekong

Seeing Florence and Martha on such outstanding form was another highlight.  In the nearly two years since I last saw her Florence has turned into a tremendously grown up five year old.  She takes her responsibilities as a big sister seriously offering wise thoughts and guidance to Martha which are occasionally heeded.  For her part, Martha is a hilarious and energetic companion.  I just hope that “Uncle Cakey’s” responses to her favourite question (Why?) passed muster.  You could not wish for brighter, happier or loving girls.  They proudly told me of Lou’s “proper” job in a hospital compared to Daddy’s “easy” job in the office!

So back to the KFC, and let’s take the Martha Bishop approach.

“Why?”
Because when I first met Tim we caught a train from Durham to Newcastle specifically to buy a KFC and then ate it on the way back on the train.

“Why?”
Because Durham did not have a KFC.

“No you idiot (my words not Martha’s), why go to all that effort for a meal of such dubious quality they feel it appropriate to serve it in buckets?”

At this point I scratch my head and go back to two year old Martha for her inspiration.  If you ask her “Why?” she will say, “Because”.

I do not think I know exactly why.  Certainly, one reason is that going to KFC reminds us of glorious successes and heroic failures (falafel and vegetarian!)  Our digestive systems might complain.  Facebook pictures of the meal may be scant on ‘Likes’.  But I think it is a reasonable measure of friendship if you can have a brilliant time with someone even if your accompaniment is a bucket of wings and some fizzy pop.

So if you are going to Vietnam here is my food tip:  try a KFC XL meal.  Avoid the one by the Opera House as that only seems to sell custard tarts.  Ignore anyone who tells you there is one at the Vin Comm Centre.  Believe me they do not tell the truth.  Once you have found the right place, just share it with your top mate and there will be a story to tell wherever in the world you might next meet up.

Classy

Classy

Good Day Sunshine

“I need to laugh, and when the sun is out, I’ve got something to laugh about.”

As seems to increasingly be the case, several weeks have lapsed since I last started scribbling, as I do now, on the blank canvas offered up by a click on the ‘new post’ button of this blog.

Saigon is easing into its most nourishing time of the year, when the sun’s heat softens, the humidity lessens, and the monsoon rains of the past months are eventually turned off.

It feels like the perfect spring climate, and despite my occasional longing for the slate-tiled flooring and red wine, wood-smoked infused charm of a local pub during the cold festive season back in the UK, living in Saigon right now you would be hard pressed to find more agreeable weather to whisk you off to work each morning – and for that I remain a very lucky chap.

Perhaps in the spirit of bringing some sort of English-isms back into my now familiar Asian surrounds, I downloaded lots of Beatles tunes last night and, as I always do, experienced that surge of familiarity and foot-tapping glee derived from any re-discovery of something very special.

It’s a great realisation, in fact, that when much of my time can be spent on learning new things, grasping at new experiences, and projecting thoughts forward that, to revert in the other direction – whether it be through music, photos, anecdotes, writing, reading, reflection – can instantaneously be all that is required to spark life back into one’s day.

Speaking of bringing English-isms back over here, last week was a true 2013 highlight, as my folks traveled out to meet me and the girls for a week’s retreat in Thailand (them via the rather grandiose spectacle that is Dubai, where the ATMs dispense gold, and me and the kids via a short one hour hop from Saigon to Bangkok, normally a tedious journey for me, but with them in tow it turns into a much more exciting prospect given the deliriousness at which they encounter each part of the experience – I have never seen so much excitement expressed by two little people at being given a “refreshing” airline wet-wipe just before take-off, nor in chasing round the luggage carousel in pursuit of a car seat!)

This evening, a second English-ism of the month will also descend upon Saigon, in the form of “Uncle Cakey” – my dearest friend from South East London, who is making his second visit out here, albeit this one without his gorgeous family, for a long weekend of eating banh xeo’s and drinking Tiger beer, resplendent as he will be in the shorts and sandals that haven’t themselves ventured out of his wardrobe now for many moons.

I am also assured that, in between such indulgences, a guest blog by Uncle Cake will be penned on this very canvas.  Watch this space.

In the meantime, I have pasted some of the latest holiday snaps from the Bishop girls below, underneath today’s jolly tune…

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Ruling the roost at the adventure playground

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Swinging so fast the camera can’t keep up

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Worried that Grandpa is going to eat my ice cream

Flo on her 100th trip down the hotel pool's waterslide

Flo on her 100th trip down the hotel pool’s waterslide

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Happy Birthday Grandpa!

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Look what I found

Reading with Grandma on elephant safari

Reading with Grandma on elephant safari

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The lesser spotted Florence, up close

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Someone is enjoying being pampered!

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Daddy can’t resist an arty shot

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Princess

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My workout for the week

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Where have those elephants got to?

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Cheekiness personified

Final ice cream waiting to fly home from Bangkok airport

Final ice cream waiting to fly home from Bangkok airport

Yolanda

Image courtesy of Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty images

Image courtesy of Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty images

You don’t need me to point out where this photo was taken, nor what messages sit behind the faces within it.

I only have admiration for those people who are on hand in the Philippines at the moment, helping, and only great sadness and hope for those whose lives have been altered forever.

For any long standing visitors to my blogs, it will hopefully have been made obvious by now that I have involved my organisation, CARE International, and the developmental issues we address around the world mainly as a platform from which to couch ideas and thoughts – mainly, in other words, as a lens through which I can write.

The world has collectively reacted to the images created by the Haiyan (Yolanda) typhoon, and we have all shared our thoughts with loved ones, friends, colleagues, people sat next to us on the bus.

Pointless as it typically is to try and immediately draw any conclusions as to what events like these ‘mean’, or what they reinforce to us all as fellow citizens on the planet, the one thing that remains tangible and easy for many of us to do, is support the work of those agencies who are, today, right now, saving lives.

It is not my intention to use this space again to promote CARE or the work of the other DEC (Disaster Emergency Committee) members, but today, and right now, that is what I am doing.

Here is a link through which you can lend your support:

http://www.careinternational.org.uk/news-and-press/latest-news-features/2459-typhoon-haiyan-this-will-haunt-me-for-a-long-time-