Thursday, 3 March 2011

Touring on the Airblade.

I wanted to go abroad, New Zealand to be exact, but Dung and her Mam said I should tour in Vietnam and then Dung would go with me. She didn’t want to go to New Zealand. The ladies won and perhaps I dodged a bullet, as I may have been in Christchurch when the earthquake hit. I was going to start there.
Anyway, we set off with the bag strapped to the back of the moto and got about 3 kilometres before we moved it to the front.  A definite change for the better.
Our first destination was Vung Tau. A big seaside resort. Dung has Aunties there and so do I now. It is a bit of a hike on the moto, especially as we have to go through the suburbs of HCMC. Not a pleasant drive at anytime, but we plodded along nicely and worked our way around the city through the rush hour. Not good timing, but at least it was cooler than the afternoon would have been. We stopped to ask directions several times. Signposts in Vietnam are like the old rocking horse doodoo. We got around and across the big bridge and then it was plain motoring to the outskirts of Vung Tau. We stopped for Pho somewhere that I don’t remember and it was very nice too and an appreciated break. We plodded along through several towns, villages and bits of places. Night time driving in Vietnam is tiring, as the roads can’t be trusted, potholes appear on the best of them and if the lights coming the other way are a bit bright, then the potholes become invisible, sometimes.
We got to Ba Ria in good time and  now we are not far away from Vung Tau. Ba Ria has benefited from the offshore oil and is a lively rich place. It has a dual high street with one way traffic on each stretch. They probably provide good cruising for the multitude of young ‘un’s in town, but we weren’t there long enough to verify this. Dung says the adolescents here don’t try to hard at school, but live off their rich parent’s money. How she knows I don’t know, but it looks that it could be likely. There’s not a lot of traditional Vietnam to be seen here.
The winds are getting very strong now and gusting, blowing the bike around a bit, but nothing too bad. We were quite a few kilometres out of Vung Tau and we hit a big, new, dual carriageway with a dedicated, protected lane for the motos, very nice, apart from the double manhole covers every couple of hundred metres. They aren’t there in the opposite direction, so 50/50 seems fair and it is easy driving and now worrying about the kamikaze bus and lorry drivers. The road went on for a good few kilometres and we hit a big roundabout in town that Dung recognised, but that was the end of the knowledge. We went on for a few hundred metres then decided we had no idea where we were going and phoned Auntie Long Nho. Back to the roundabout and wait for her daughter to come along with a motoman and show us the way in. Auntie Long Nho has a very small room in the very Vietnamese area of Vung Tau.  Usually relatives all huddle into it and kip there, but they won’t do that with me. I think it makes them feel too awkward.
Long Nho cooks and sells hu tieu. We have made it here for 22.30 and she is still on the street with her stall selling. First though she shows Dung to a room for rent and we ditch the bags. It is less than plush, so we booked in only for the one night, but it is a bed and the old lady in charge is a good old stick. Back to Long Nho’s, a quick call into her house and back to the street stall, a couple of hundred metres away, for hu tieu and very tasty too. Long Nho gets up at 5 a.m and goes to the market, where she has another stall, buys her ingredients and starts cooking to sell from 6 a.m. to around about 11 a.m., then she packs up and goes home for a few hours, having the hu tieu ready to sell on the street, close to her house from about 5 p.m. to whenever she decides to call it a day, between 21.30 and midnight. Even when she calls it a day, she has the washing up to do and tidying away. She is ably assisted here by T, her 16 year old daughter, who plods along getting rid of the waste and rubbish, washing the dishes, chopsticks and cleaning the stall down. Long Nho assists by finishing off any food that is not sold, ably assisted today by Dung.
Long Nho finishing of the goods.

T finished her washing up, ready to go.


T is a very beautiful  young lady and is at the di choi (having a good time) age, but has been put on a leash and now works here until finishing time and then starts school at 7 a.m. Not an easy life for a young lass and she has lots of admirers to make it even more painful. She is from the poor section of town which seems to embarrass her a bit, but she has plans to get out and to get her family into the richer end of town. Their room is simply that, about 4 metres by 4 metres at the end of a dark alley. There’s no kitchen, they cook on a gas stove under the stairs that go to the upstairs rooms and the toilet/shower is shared with some of the other rooms occupiers. Not an easy life, but Long Nho is probably the smiliest member of this side of the family.  Being with her is fun and friendly and she cooks very good hu tieu. About 23.45, Long Nho is almost set to go home and we are getting weary, so we head off and leave her and T to finish off.
Day 2 in Vung Tau. Up showered, packed and dropped off the bags at Long Nho’s. Her 4 year old son, Boi, is still fast asleep when Dung dropped the bags off. He stays there until he wakes and if he is hungry will head off to the market to his Mam and Dad to get fed, which is where we headed. Vung Tau, being a seaside resort, has good fish stalls on its market and the market in general is a good one. Long Nho and Bup, her husband, have their stall in the middle of the market. She seems very popular and everybody knows her. The appearance of an Englishman sitting and chatting whilst eating somemore hu tieu and some huge king prawns pulls in the friends from around her for some questioning. The hu tieu was good again. Bup has bought some fish to take home to cook lunch for us. It looks like a huge mackerel and tastes like tuna. He is a good cook too, the fish is delicious, cooked under the stairs. He likes a bit of ruou with his food, but I left him to it, we were off to do some sightseeing, after finding a hotel. We cruised out of the Vietnamese area and closer to the seaside resort area and dropped luckily on a good hotel, at £7 only £1.50 more expensive than last night and at least 3 times as good. We booked in and hit the prom. There are 2 main beach areas in Vung Tau. This end has some big, new hotels and some more being built. Posh on the hotel side of the road and very Blackpool like on the beach side with thousands of deckchairs and shades for rent, drinks to be  bought and tat also, hanging around the stalls, good seaside tat though, although I never saw any KISS ME QUICK hats, but there was the Vietnamese equivalent, a tatty straw hat and very beautiful Dung looks in it too. We’ve done some cruising and had a drink on the beach and now it is getting hot, which brings out Dung’s bad temper, so it is back to the hotel for an afternoon nap.
Vung Tau is a big Vietnamese holiday spot, buses pile in during the day and go home in the evenings and there are the stay over people too. It is a very rich town, again the oil has boosted it along with the tourism. Big, posh cars abound, big posh houses too and the dressed up posh mix with the everyday people. In fact we went to a seafood place for dinner and there was a film star at the next table, so Dung tells me. He is the Indiana Jones of Vietnam, so Dung tells me. There is a posh lady with him, at least she dresses that way and a bloke who talks big, so Dung tells me and some other lads, but the one who gets all the looks is the lady in the £2.50p suit, Dung. She looks stunning and turns all the heads when she comes in. The food is very nice, just what the doctor ordered. Lots of squid in different cooked forms and some pork and a couple of beers too. The boy is chilled by the beach. We cruised a little bit more. This is the other beach area, bai truoc, front beach and here the young ‘un’s do big time cruising around and around the prom dual carriageway. There are a few likely lads drag racing on their 2 wheeler sewing machines, but generally the prom has a good, relaxed, holiday feel, with a racey edge to it.
After a bit of people watching, it is time to hit the sack. Day 3 on the road tomorrow, but going nowhere far.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What goes on around home.

Just sitting out on the balcony all sorts goes on around the house, from first light until well after dark. During the night too, which was when the chickens went walkabout, probably in someones sack. I never realised when chickens roost at night, you can  just walk up to them and grab them. We, Dung, Luan and me have tried catching them in the day and it  is not an easy task. There is a big cock comes around from next door, or used to, he came for sex with the hens, but now they are greatly reduces I  haven't seen so much of him. Perhaps he is in the pot now. It wasn't easy to get rid of him. At feed time he would chase the hens away from the lua, rice in the husk, so we would scatter him with sticks, bricks or anything that came to hand, but he would walk around the house and come in from the other side. He wouldn't give up easy. He got to the point where when he saw me he would scatter. He would come into the  house too and peck a hole in the lua sack to get to the rice and I'm sure  he would wait until we went for a nap and come and crow outside the window, because no matter what time we napped he would turn up and crow.
People start coming passed the house from first light selling different wares, mostly to eat, these are the regulars, like the milkman and breadman used to be in the UK. They come all day, although ealry morning and evening are the hot spots for them. Besides the regulars there are the likes of a matress salesman, on a moto, with about 4 double mattresses strapped onto a board on the back of his moto. Some bloke came along selling wooden buddhas, not small either. The ice cream man is a favourite, closely followed by the DVD salesman, who will take swaps in part exchange. He's a happy bloke and always smiles, the kids love him.
The collectors come along too, the plastic and metal collectors, the dog collectors being chased by all the dogs he passes, as he tries to beat them off with a stick. He has to raise his feet when the braver dogs get a bit close.
 We live down a small dirt track that, at the moment, goes nowhere, so they have to come off the beaten track. It must be worth their while though.
I got a shout from Dung the other day, she was all excited, so the shout was probably heard in HCMC. Meo, a cousin, had a snake. I was a bit blase at first, as I have seen a few now, but Dung said it  was a big one. I found out she had exaggerated a bit, but it still was a big one. Being an expert, I pronounced it non-poisonous. It looked like a python to me. I asked Meo and he told me it was safe. The way everyone was handling it, I thought it must have been, so I had a quick hold, but no cuddle, as some were. Boi, a nephew, wasn't too sure and started to howl when he was pushed towards it, but 2 minutes later  he was grasping it. Meo went to get a cage for it from Tieng, Boi's Dad, so he put the snake down on the veranda at Tieng's and it wandered off into the house, nobody seemed bothered. Meo retrieved it and laid it on the veranda, whilst he sorted the cage. One of the local kids started to grab it's tail and it didn't look too happy, but he continued. It wasn't happy!! It jumped up and bit Meo.
He got a few nasty fang holes in his arm and the kid got more than an ear full from a few of the adults. Meo said it was nothing, but I think he was a bit concerned, perhaps not too much, as he just grabbed a cloth and wiped off the blood. Later in the day word spread that Meo had gone to hospital, as he was feeling drowsy. That sent the neighbourhood buzzing. Was it a python, or was it a con nua. So much for my expertise, if the Vietnamese don't know I have no chance. Meo drove himself to the hospital and while he was away the hunt was on for a decision, is it a python or con nua. I wandered down to duong Ba's, Meo's father and there was a lot of talk going on. Nobody seemed to be able to decide. Apparantly a con nua has 9 noses, so everyone is peering into the cage to see if they can count the noses. There certainly looks to be more than 2. Duong Ba asked me what I thought, I must look like an expert too, but I declined to make a decision too. However, I did hightail it to check out the internet. I wasn't having much luck, but Dung had told me how to spell it wrong. We still didn't have much luck when the internet corrected our spelling. It is a clever sod this internet. It did say that you would probably die, if bitten by a con nua and people had been poorly eating it and whilst we were browsing, Meo came home, so I guess I am an expert after all and it is a python.
Meo happy before the bite.
Boi not so happy and the lad who caused the bite.
It caused a lot of anxiety amongst his family. His sister was very down and wanted rid of the snake, but when I mowsied on down their tonight, Meo is still alive and the snake is still in the back yard. Both seem  happy enough. The snake has some frogs sitting waiting to be eaten and Meo is still alive.

Staying on the snake theme. I went out walking and didn't see a snake, but that is not the continuation. When Dung finally got out of bed, she followed me, or thought she did. I had hung a left long before she stood on the snake. She said she thought she felt something under her foot and when she looked it was a small snake, she stepped back from it and it just looked at her, probably stunned or deciding if she looked delicious, an old fella came along and told her to leg it, so not being a snake lover she did. He told her that if this one bites you, it makes you feel sleepy. I asked her what it looked like to add to my expertise, but she said she didn't hang around long enough to check it out. She reckons it didn't bite her as she probably stood on its head, no wonder it was stunned, she's not stopped eating for 2 months and has added a couple of kilos. She can't fasten some shorts she used to wear in the UK, but tells me she hasn't put any weight on, fearing she may have to cut back on the eating.
And moving on, I was laid in the hammock, under the trees out front the other day, happily reading and  listeniing to some music then Dung came out and started nattering with an auntie over the track, who has a son best described as a waster, but don't take my word for it. Dung and her auntie number 4 started bellowing, but not speaking the lingo I kept out of it. An uncle joined in, then another, then another auntie, then her Dad, then her Mam and then Uncle Tom Cobbly, all bellowing. I was impressed with Tom's Vietnamese. It sounded like World War 3 was breaking out. I wasn't sure what was going on, but had a good incling it was about the cousin. Another cousin walked by and threw me a smile, so I returned it and shrugged my shoulders. Once it had died down and Dung came over, I asked what everyone was arguing about. She told me they weren't, they were just agreeing about the cousin being a tosser, I told you not to take my word for it. I'm glad I didn't go over to defend Dung. When the Vietnamese talk about anything they all raise their voices to higher levels than I can shout. I must confess to having to walk awaay, it gives me a headache. I think they have to shout, as they all talk at the same time, I'm not sure if they are talking about different subject or the same one, but I have a feeling it is the same one. It beats me how anyone hears anyone else. Eating doesn't stop the volume either and no food is spat out, so it must be an age old skill. The telly blaring in the background also contributes. Tellys in Vietnam don't have volume switches they are just supplied at full volume. The same goes for the Karaoke machines and hifi's. So long as you are watching the same channel, if the speakers go on the TV, you can listen to next doors and next doors is  probably a good 50 metres away, behind trees. There seemed to be a bit of grumpy old man creeping in there. I have grown used to it now and have a good spot in the middle of the paddy where I can relax and read my books with the snakes, clever snakes.
Keeping on the snake theme... de ja vu as Neo said, I was doing something out the back, chasing that cock I think and Nu shouted me to come and have a look, so I did. Oh yes a worm. She told me she found it in the bathroom, con rang - snake. It was a baby snake, it looked all the world like a brandling to me, until it raised its head to look at me. Nu swept it out of the door and then it didn't raise its head anymore, as she belted it with a brick, in fact it didn't raise anything anymore.
And guess what? More snakes. This is very unusual, a snake glut. I had only seen 2 other than those Hiep caught at his factory. OurSue had called me on Skype, so me and Dung took her for a wander around, it's a great thing this wireless, and Uncle Hiep has brought a bucket of snakes home. A bucket may be an exaggeration, but  there were a good few in there. Being an expert, I put my hand in and grabbed one. I will add that I had double, triple and quadruple checked that they werent poisonous and seen several people handling them. He had caught these at the factory too. I don't know what the plans for these were, but possibly the pot or barbecue.
Uncle Dung often passes by and hails me over. He buys bags of old prawn crackers, at least that is what they look like. I haven't tasted one yet. He feeds them to the fish in his pond and they love them, the water boils. Ba Noi, usually sits and watches, as this is early morning, before the heat kicks in. It is relaxing to watch, I don't know why, but it is.
We were sat outside one night and Minh, a young bloke from down the road called in, he was well and truely oiled and carrying an ice cream, like a knickerbockerglory. He had come on his moto, but an ice cream is small potatoes, if you see what I mean, to carry on a moto. It looked good, he had bought it from the ice  cream shop up the road. I asked how much and he didn't know, he had sat down with it, then got up and come away with it. I don't know if he will be going back to pay tomorrow, but I doubt he will go far tonight, he is smashed and on the edge of sleeping. If anyone has a light on when Minh passes he stops in. I doubt he has missed a drinking session in years and he always seems the most smashed. Perhaps he is just topping up. He goes over big curbs on his moto, across the rough ground, but never seems to fall off. His moto doesn't look too healthy, come to that, Minh isn't the picture of health.
The mozzies are getting restless, so I think I'll call it a night. Chuc ngu ngon.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Cocked up with Tet date. (New Year).

I thought Tet, the Vietnamese New Year, is on 14th February. I hope nobody has taken notice, or they will miss it. It is on 3rd February. I checked it out on the web and got it as the 14th, which says a lot for my browsing prowess. There is a lot of activity going on everywhere in preparation and the calendar, which has Vietnamese and the other one’s dates  didn’t seem to be running in sync, so I checked the calendar out and now I know.
It seems like Tet, encompasses all the West does for Christmas, New Year and spring cleaning. There are fires burning everywhere and a lot of bad, burned, plastic smells to go with them. There is no bin collection off the main drag here, so everyone has to dispose of their own rubbish and the Vietnamese use a lot of plastic bags. They burn easy though. I think the ones in the UK only smoulder and leave a blob of plastic, something I need to check out, well not need perhaps, but something to observe one day. OK, I’ll forget about it all together. Another quirk is that people pay to take away recyclable rubbish. They come around on a bike with a big basket on the back and drop a few bob for the cans and plastic. What’s the chances of the council doing that? Yeah, I thought so.
The houses are all getting spring cleaned and Nu, the mother-in-law, is a cleaning fanatic at normal times, so now I try to keep out of the way. I’ve done a bit, but I am not good at it, I’ll burn the rubbish.
The cleaning has to be done by 23:00 on 30th December, Tet eve and then everyone has to sit and relax and eat. Then the rest of your year will be the same, not rushed and the house will be clean and have plenty of food. There is no sweeping the dirt out of the house for the 3 days of Tet either. It signifies people sweeping the luck out of the house and there will be no money incoming for the year, or at least the year won’t be a prosperous one. I think the dirt can be swept into a corner and then swept out after day 3.
The first day is for staying at home with your family and eating being good natured and if an argument is brewing, it has to be quelled, put out of your mind, or there will be arguments all year round. Dung told me it is OK to argue on day 2. When I mentioned that if you haven’t argued on day 1, then day 2 should have no arguments, she just smiled. I don’t know how much is believed and how much is just superstition, like not putting on your shirt until you are in the tunnel. It is followed religiously by some and with not so much gusto by others, at least that is how I see it.
I was sipping a ca phe da whilst Dung did some bartering, arguing and buying on the market. She brought some fruit back half way through and I went to put it on the seat next to me. She stopped me and told me to put it on the table. Why? Because it is to go on the altar/shrine in the house and the deceased won’t be happy if it has been where some people’s bums have been. She got some flowers too and wanted to cut them, but I was hogging the sink, so I suggested cutting and cleaning them in the bathroom/toilet, wetroom. No way, these are for the altar too and the deceased won’t be happy if they are sorted out in the toilet. These deceased are a bigger pain dead than alive. If this blog ends here, it is because it is not superstition and I have upset them. Everything that goes on the altar, I don’t know the correct name for it, I’ll try to find out, can be eaten, drunk, smoked or whatever later. It all goes over my head. Yes, the altar is high. There are 3 in our house. 2 inside and one outside. I don’t know any more than that at the moment.
On the first day of New Year food is put out for all the people who are desired to come and visit your home, deceased people, and wish good fortune, luck and health for your home and family for the coming year. On the 3rd day they get another lot of food for the journey back and to speed them on their way now that they have delivered the necessary. They probably can’t go, because they have over indulged. I’ll have to look into all this. (Mick scan the web for a book for me please, or anyone come to that. Why don’t I do it? Remember my New Year date).
On the first day, it is good to visit nearby family too, but generally staying around the home is preferred.
Day 2 is for visiting friends, but I am not sure all comers are welcome. If someone is a bit of a waster and doesn’t have luck or good fortune, I think they are not too welcome, as they leave some of themselves in your home, so the reverse is true, a good looking rich bloke, driving up in a Ferarri, or landing in his helicopter will be welcomed, unless he is a gangster, I suppose. I think I will be staying at home! Not because I am ugly, a vagabond and generally bad news, although that could be true, but because I don’t want to be held responsible for any bad news in the coming year. I’m starting to believe in some of Dung’s voodoo-like stories of people who can lay a spell on you and I don’t want any payback for any bad tidings I deliver. She believes one of her aunties has the power, but it is possible to hire these lovely people too and the penalties are not minor, death is one of them, so I am told. There are too many superstitions for me to follow them all and I definitely don’t understand some of them. I put a drain pipe in, out the back, to take the waste water from the house to a nearby stream, instead of into our pond. The uncle next door asked if he could join his waste water into our pipe. I said OK. BIG MISTAKE. It is very, bad, luck to have the waste water from somebody else’s house passing through your property and a bit taboo. I wonder if the UK councils know this. It would interesting to bring up at a council meeting, I guess not so, they would just do as normal and ignore anything they like and make up their own rules, said the bitter and twisted, grumpy, old, man.
I’m still paying council tax, whilst my house is unoccupied. There is a rebate of 50%, but that isn’t allowed, because I am going back to the house. “What’s that all about Granddad?” “Beats me Paige.”
Anyway, the uncle and his wife know of this superstition, so a long discussion ensued. It was amicable enough, but not all sides were happy, in fact none were, but it was soon forgotten, as with most such occurrences.
Moving onto day 3. During this day, family should visit the ancestral family house. Granddad’s place. It gets passed down to the youngest son in each generation. I haven’t asked what happens if there are no sons. It doesn’t always seem to work that way anyway, but the ancestral home should be visited anyway. Local members shouldn’t eat there, but go home to eat, but any members travelling will eat there, so a little party will probably spring up and a spring of ruou will probably arrive and then wait and see. As in the U.K., sometimes fireworks, sometimes lots of laughs. I’m going for the laughs, as everyone seems to be getting excited about the approaching Tet celebrations. A similarity with Christmas in the U.K. is that extra money is required and for those who can’t lay hands on it, they lay hands on other people’s property, crime increases. 7 of our 9 chickens went missing the other night. The cold nights seems to be killing of the ducklings too, there are 6 of 12 left. Over the last couple of weeks, the nights have become cooler, I can’t really say cold, as a t-shirt and shorts will still suffice, but if sitting around, long trousers and a jumper may be in order. About 16 degrees, I reckon. It is more damp than cold. There is no rain though. The little pond has dried up and any useful rubbish in it has been retrieved, including a couple of old tree trunks that Binh has used as planters. Flowers are a big affair at Tet. Everyone seems to want them. Mang, a lad down the road, came home with a load on the back of his moto,  he was almost instantly mobbed, it was nearly as bad as the welly wagon at Glastonbury. He made a few bob on the side and made some local people happy. Today and last evening has been spent potting them up, along with cleaning and tidying. There is a tree, I don't know the name, but all the leaves are picked off 2 weeks before Tet and they are supposed to flower profusely for Tet. I have my doubts, but hope I am being too pessimistic. It must work as everyone has taken the leaves off, it is a bit like a ritual. Hiep told me it is called giving the trees a new shirt for Tet, or similar. I have take a photo of some bare trees, just as proof for other doubters.
Trees waiting for their new shirts.
Grave in amongst the paddy fields.
A few days before Tet, the family graves are tidied and decorated too. Dung’s family’s are behind some pig sties. They weren’t there originally, or last year, come to that. The sewage from the pigs seems to be seeping onto the ground around the graves. I would think that is a big no no, but haven’t heard anything kicking off yet. Watch this space. The graves are in out of the way places sometimes. The middle of paddy fields seems to be a popular place. I’m not sure if it isn’t to bring good returns on the crops, as they are watched over by the ancestral owners, something else to check out. It may be just that the land is owned by them, so they are buried there.
Well, Tet approaches, I had better go and do something. A shower I think. The football is on tonight, internet and power permitting, otherwise another trip into town to watch it in a cafe may be the order of the night. Bars are not common around here, but I am not complaining.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Exercise regime in Vietnam.

When away from home, it is easy to get out of the exercise habit, so I have. I do try a bit. Many years, well about 8 years ago, I was shown some Pilates exercises by an instructor. I had to pay her, for the instruction too. They are easy to do, so I do them for about 45 minutes every 3 days or so. The “so” part varying greatly. Some days I wander onto the veranda, when I get up, and think I’ll go for a walk. Good exercise for me, even if it is not enjoyed. This works out really well. The first time I went, I headed left out of the house and got about 150 metres. There were four of the neighbourhood ladies swinging in the hammocks outside Co Ba’s house. They stopped me for a chat, so I sat for a few minutes trying to understand them and vice versa, then Co Ba sent her son to go and make cafe da and told me to wait, so I waited and the coffee appeared and we nattered and people, kids and various animals, came and went. Not that kids aren’t people. I sat a bit longer, then Dung appeared and ordered me home for breakfast, so I did about 300 metres in an hour. Pretty good going.
Another day, I hung a left and managed to sneak past Co Ba’s, there were no people in the hammocks. I wandered on around a few turns in the path and onto a field in front of a house, the path continued about 50 metres on over the field. The bloke who lives in the  house by the field was putting his cow out to graze. He wandered off, into somebody else’s land, I think, staked the rope that was around the cow’s neck and wandered back. He stopped by me and we did some pidgeon Vietnamese, at least I did, his was perfect. I got the drift, he invited me to drink tea at his place. A local custom to make friends. I had actually been to his house last time we were in Vietnam, but he was 3 sheets to the wind on ruou, so he probably didn’t remember. It was his 2 girls who were jumping in our pond when it lashed down. I think his wife has a hard time, she goes off to work in a factory and from what I have seen, comes home to work again. Dung says she will be alright when her old man pegs it, as he has plenty of land. Dung thinks he will kill himself drinking and smoking, but he looked healthy enough to me. We nattered about the always favourite football and did some more talking which I don’t think either of us understood, I drank some more tea and made my exit. I found out later he is selling some land and has offered it to me and Dung, but the goalposts keep changing, or the post of the land he wants to sell do.
Her Dad asked me for the tea. She is on her way home from shcool.
I set off over the field again and this time made it to path. The path stops about 50 metres short of the one by the house, because the land between it and the house belong to the householder and the land by the road to another man, who had tried to buy the land in between, but for some reason I don’t and probably never will understand, the householder wouldn’t sell, so the path stops short. Another 50 metres would have linked the up and coming industrial area to our neighbour hood. The workers in Tan Duc, the industrial area, who come from our place would have been happy to see it completed, it would have meant motos could go that way. Now, only a couple of ladies go on their push bikes, getting off for the missing path part. It seems once the road is built it becomes unofficial public property, or right of way. I can see that working in the UK with our ever friendly farmers etc.
One of the ladies who uses the unfinished path.
 Anyway, I continued on heading for Tan Duc. I was just curious where the path went. I meandered between houses, paddy fields and other agricultural plots. Not very far, if the truth be known, about a kilometre, 2 at the most. I get some strange looks, as if I have 2 heads as I wander, but a smile usually gets one in response. Sometimes the kids leg it crying and today was no exception. I got a welcome from a dog as I approached his home, as I passed it and after I had passed it. Alarms are not needed in Vietnam as most houses have dogs and barking is their favourite pastime. There bark is worse than their bite, usually one step in their direction and they bark “I’m going to tell my owner if you come any closer”, then they leg it. Although I am glad this one is behind a big fence. He is one of the biggest I have seen out here.
The house with the big dog alarm.
 I got some long looks from a lady in a non la, conical hat, as she walked home with her young daughter and her chau. True to form the daughter legged it off as soon as she saw that I have 2 heads. Plodding on a bit further, I recognised where I was, I think, that is to be proven, so I turned around, the sun was starting to get high and hot, like George Michael on a sunny beach. I offered some chat to the dog as passed this time, this seemed to appease him and he just followed me along the fence until I had passed. I fooled him though, because I didn’t keep going, I turned a sharp right just past his fence and mossied across the field next to his house. He fooled me though, he spotted me and came over to check me out, but no barking. I went to check out some land. The field looked dry, so off I went, it was too, mostly dry. The cow  had made it a bit uneven, it must have been staked here regularly and when the land was wet, as hoof prints are everywhere. The paddy fields look really beautiful when the rice is at it’s greenest, flat or not, there is something about them that catches the eye and imagination. I think it must be harvest time soon, as more and more fields are turning luscious green. They had better ripen soon, it is New Year in about 30 days and I think life slows down for a while around this time, except in the drinking stakes. Done with my trekking, I set off home. I had picked up a stick, a small branch from tree when I got to the rougher area, so I stashed this for my next foray in this direction. I think I have worked out a good loop, with a cafe half way around, so I’ll bring a few bob for a brew and a break.
The next time I sauntered out onto the veranda after lazily awakening, for this morning’s exercise regime, I decided it was time to go right. Actually I was going over to see Ki Ki, the toddler over the way, she was playing out front by herself, but by the time I got there she had gone indoors to see her uncle who arrived before me, so I just kept going, to where I didn’t know, but sometimes that is the best way to keep going. I said a few hellos along the way and got a few smiles back, then I hung a left into territory unknown, but I have a feeling this is a shortcut into the back end of town. There were a few twists and turns along the way and another bloke staking out his cow. This lad just asked if I was out exercising. I said yes and that was more or less it. I think I should know him, but the face doesn’t ring any bells yet. I definitely should know him, he cut back across the field to what, I now see, will be a short cut home, he lives on our lane, but where I don’t know yet. The path is a bit narrow through the fields, but it can’t be that narrow, as a few motos come past me. I stepped aside, so it is a bit narrow. Meandering on I could see the back end of town ahead. There are a few rooms to rent along this way, but none are inhabited. It is a bit out of the way, in fact there are a few unoccupied houses along this track. Perhaps the government has bought the owners out, but as far as I know this is not a development area. This area just seems a bit rundown and it is only a couple of hundred metres from our area and that isn’t rundown. It isn’t thriving, but definitely not rundown. What do I know. I plodded along and an old dear spotted me from behind the hedge that separates her house from the track, she shouts and then informs her companions that there is a bloke out here with 2  heads. She wasn’t like that. The 3 ladies came out and nattered and chuckled, but the oldest lady was determined to get me to go for a natter and how could I resist an 88 year old, charming, little lady. Impossible, she grabbed my arm and wasn’t letting go until I had been in their house. I sat on the traditional wooden bed, which doubles as a chair, triples as a sofa and so on. They are smashing old pieces of furniture and don’t look out of place in the living room. The ladies start to give me the 3rd degree. I will have to improve my Vietnamese. We had a good laugh. One of the others  is 75 and the last younger, she wasn’t giving out here age. The eldest lady got out her betel nut tin and started to roll a chew. I was determined to watch, as I have never seen these being rolled. The ladies chew them and spit brown gue, like the old cowboys and baseball players chewing baccy. I was so determined that I missed it again. There was too much nattering going on and another lady was going passed on her bike and got called in to see this strange being. This lady knew me and so filled in the others as to which planet I come from. The ladies are very lovely, full of laughs, good fun. The eldest lady checked out my arms to see how strong I was, after it had been noted that my arms and legs are a bit thin. The spritely 88 year old rolled up her trouser leg to show me how strong she is and flexed her arm muscles for me to check. She must smile more than most 88 year olds. A smile was hardly ever off her face. She loved the fact I was there talking to them, or that is the impression I got. I decided to trog on a bit, so begged my leave. I was asked to go back tomorrow, but I never know where my strict exercise regime will take me next, it could be any of the far reaches of Duc Hoa. I did agree to return though. I’ll have to get a packet of biscuits or something to take along. Perhaps they will put the finishing touches to the old dears teeth, the betel nuts do not do them any favours. I carried on a way and found a couple more unoccupied places and then a dead end, which is nearly what this area seems, a bit of a dead end, so I headed back. The track does go into town, many motos head this way, but not to the dead end I went to. I got another burst of chatter from the ladies as I headed back and I took the shortcut across the field and through some people’s front yards, collecting a few smiles along the way. The houses in Vietnam vary greatly within a few metres. There can be a rundown, hanging together with mud house next to a new 3 storie affair and next a traditional Vietnamese style mid of the range house with pigs out the back and all 3 houses will have chickens and at least one dog. It is an interesting country and I don’t have to go far to be intrigued by what I find and now I have found my way home, so TTFN. Until the next tough exercise session.

Monday, 10 January 2011

A visit to Hiep’s water factory.

Hiep has been trying to get us to visit his factory for some time now. I was more than ready for a day out. Life in Vietnam can be a bit sedentary if you are not working and I am doing very little of anything. We called in to get the moto repaired on the way. The left turn indicator is not working again. I am not sure what they did last time, but it didn’t last. This time the switch was changed. Every time we visit this garage we come away with a different rattle. Perhaps it is time to try somewhere else.
We set off from the garage to a village with a roadside market, at least it had one last time we were here. The market has been replaced by a roundabout, a big one, but not that big. The market has been moved back a few yards. We took a right at the roundabout onto the road that leads towards the track for Hiep’s factory. I used to remember the turnoff, as it came just after 2 big dipper mounds in the dirt track road, but not anymore, the road is tarmaced and lovely to drive on. So much for remembering the turnoff, but we only went a few yards passed before Dung remembered. It is amazing the change in the road and how quick it has been done, for Vietnam. It is wide too. The local population usually do well out of this type of development, as the government buys up the land required for the road and usually gives a good price. Uncle Dang made a killing from this as he has land on the outskirts of HCMC where the price is very high. It allowed his wife to strut her stuff around the family in Duc Hoa when they visited. When we turned up she took the hump as she reckons Dung is now strutting her stuff and trying to upstage her, which is definitely not true, the difference now is that people make a fuss of Dung, because they haven’t seen her for a couple of years. Jealousy is rife in Vietnam, perhaps in the UK too and I just haven’t noticed. I only know of this in Vietnam, because they love to talk about anything and everything, so have had the dirt passed onto me. Anyway we turned off to Uncle Hiep’s land and even this road seems better. That may not be the case, as the last time we travelled this path it had rained a real Vietnamese rain and it was very slick and puddled. We got to Hiep’s and guess what, things have improved here too. Sim, Dung’s cousin, used to live here, but had to leave as Hiep was going to develop his factory and there used to be a bamboo bridge across the river that was less than complete and a lot less than flat. It rose from the dirt track and threw a couple of corkscrews in, before getting to the other side. It made the Big One at Blackpool look like a roundabout ride. There may be some blog writer’s license in that, but I definitely couldn’t ride the moto over it. Now there is a big concrete affair that looks very tame, at least until I got on the top and the drop on the other side is an abyss, more license, but going down is easy. I can handle this one easy..............ish.
Hiep has always had an interest in water for some reason and has always built water towers near his houses. (We have a bore down and a pump to suck the water up and then push it through one of Hiep’s water filters.) He used to advise people on water supply and fit these filters previously. He probably still does, but this factory is currently his baby. He has used some second hand materials in building it, new looking, but second hand. He has always considered himself a farmer and still does to some extent, which makes his achievements with the factory very admirable. Some of the equipment has come in from the U.K. and the States, which he is very proud of and quick to point out and the whole shooting match has been put together for around £20,000.
Hiep and Dung out back.
He had the water tested before starting and it was given a very good bill of health, saying it has some very good qualities, not found in a lot of water. This is dragging on a bit, so here’s the short story. Hiep has sunk a bore hole, 30 metres. He pumps the water up and filters it takes out the bad bits and adds some necessary bits, bottles it and sells it. Currently in big bottles for water coolers, homes etc, but soon to be small bottles too.
The big bottles are reused and gradually fade with use. Hiep saw how blue shrink wrap was put around the bottles to make them appear new, clean and more saleable. The machine to do this was too pricey, so he has fabricated his own. A trough, at the end of the conveyor, that has heated water and the heat from this shrinks the plastic to wrap the bottles, it is very clever and simple and more to Hiep’s liking, cheap. The business seems to be going well. He has a few workers and has hired Uncle Dang’s son to deliver water in his lorry. Vietnam is very family orientated, sometimes not for the best. Perhaps more of that later.
After we had the tour, we went out the back to what used to be Sim’s house. Hiep has turned it into his office and sleeping place for the security guard required at night. No difference to the UK then. It is all very clever and cheap. After a few pieces of water melon and some of Hiep’s cold water, although it is warming up, the power is off, and Hiep took us over to bat ca. He has a couple of nets in a stream that runs by the side of the factory and the river that runs along the front, hence the bridge. The net funnels fish into the end of the long contraption. When they are ready to take the fish, the net is blocked off, the end unzipped and the fish emptied into a bucket. There is a welcome extra today, a couple of snakes. Welcome that is to the Vietnamese, I wasn’t too bothered about them, only to look at. They are expensive and a delicacy. Most of the fish are very small, they certainly won’t be getting gutted. Auntie Trang cooks them in a sauce and they are delicious, thankfully we didn’t have the snake. It is usually served with ruou, a bit like peanuts are served with beer in the UK, only a little different, it is considered a drinking delicacy. 
Off with the good clothes and in to collect the fish.

The first catch of the first net.
After Hiep had emptied the nets, but before we ate the fish, Hiep was ordered off to cac rau, collect some vegetables. These aren’t farmed, they just grow wild, so I was co-opted to go along. I wasn’t a lot of help, I never know which ones are OK and which are too big, or too small, plus we had to negotiate the paddy field paths. 

The memorial
They don’t mix too well with my legs. Hiep helped me along when I looked like toppling into the paddy. Hiep has a lot of land around here, passed down through the family and he inherits the most, as the youngest has to look after the parents. A good 200 metres from the house, Hiep has constructed a memorial to the Viet Cong. His great granddad used to help them out and there were many hidden in these parts and so killed, hence the memorial. There are many bomb craters scattered around the land and neighbouring land. Not so visible, because of the undergrowth, but I had a look on Google Earth and they are visible there. 

The chau and the heron
His Granddad had his house blown up by the Americans/South Vietnamese, because he was suspected of being a Viet Cong sympathiser, probably more that suspected, but not proven. It wasn’t blown up until the family were all out one day. They came home to find it gone, or crumpled. It was quite a substantial building, but was replaced with a simpler nha la, which survived a long time or was successfully maintained for a long while, as Dung remembers spending time there. A lot of what we learned today, is new to Dung too. Hiep or his wife go out to the memorial everyday that they are here and light some josh sticks and a cigarette, that is left burning on the end of a old josh stick. It is in the middle of the paddy fields, so was not an easy task to build, not for me anyway. In true Vietnamese style, it wasn’t tidied up to any great extent, unused bags of gravel are just left to litter up the area. The Vietnamese outlook is very different, at times, to a UK outlook, probably because they are Vietnamese and we are not. Sometimes it is initially difficult to understand why some things are done the way they are, but with a little thought, it is usually very understandable. I do like the Vietnamese way of life in general, but don’t know if I am always up to it. I definitely can’t negotiate the land so well, but have grown to know how to handle the heat most of the time. Back to cac rau, I had to wait at the corner of one paddy field whilst Hiep went off to gather more vegetables, the terrain was not Gilbert friendly, so I wandered back a bit and did some snapping. This is what I consider very Vietnamese territory, paddy fields with a chau, water buffalo, wandering along the paths and a white egret, heron or stork in the background. It is probably the chau’s fault that I can’t negotiate the paddy paths. 
When we got back the ladies sorted out the veg and Hiep went off to empty the nets again. I was directed to a hammock. After the tasty fish, some more water melon, a sit in the hammocks and a chat, which included trying to get me into business, with, as I later found out, some dodgy information.  The power came back on, so we had another quick turn around the factory, this time with a working demonstration, then a bloke turned up with an electric welder to do some more fabricating of a bottle shelter on the outside of the factory. He and Hiep were using some dodgy platform to do the work. The legs were held in place with some bricks hammered into holes in the ground to keep them stable.
The sun was starting to set around the front of the factory, so we sat there, by the river, admiring the welder and Hiep’s work and passing on good advice. A family came along in a punt type boat. The mother was punting, rowing, the father had a battery and a couple of poles used to stun fish and he heaved them into the boat for the son to put them in a bucket. A real family affair and good a evening out on the river. There was some friendly banter with them, before they disappeared up river with some very sizeable fish. I wonder if they were bound for the market in the morning, giving the stunned fish time to recouperate.
Family evening out punting on the river
The troll guarding the bridge.
Time to hit the road home. This time I had to negotiate the steep part of the bridge first. Grave doubts were expressed by everyone of me taking the moto over, but I had secretly scouted it out before. It looks steeper from the head on angle, it wasn’t too bad and very wide, so I had no problem negotiating it. Dung didn’t fancy my chances, so she trotted up behind me in her high heels. There’s no telling this lady. I wonder if she would have saved me or the moto, if I had been over confident in my abilities. We set off on an uneventful trip home, no sudden stops for roadside food or detours to visit aunties. What I thought would be a bit of a boring day turned out to be very enjoyable and informative, if we miss out the business talk bit. It is easy to imagine the troubles between the Viet Minh/Cong and the French and Yanks as we drive through the countryside and difficult to see how the Viet Cong survived the barrage. I should  read some more about it. You never know, one day.........
Home, cold shower and a cup of tea, well pot of tea, the cups are very little. It may or may not surprise you to know that I had a piece of cake with the tea.