Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Vietnam...experience is everything

I am double dipping today with about my experiences about my expat book club in Saigon. You will find the post on both Collage of Life and Expat Diary Viet Nam. It is my way of keeping track and recognising that there are different readers between the two. If you are here solely for the expat journey in Vietnam..you might enjoy this story.

Hotel Majestic in 1940 where Graham Greene frequented
the rooftop bar to enjoy the "cool winds off the Saigon River".

I belong to an expat book club in Vietnam.  We meet the second Monday of each month in a local cafe to talk about books and expat life.  Like other book clubs, we decide in advance, the books we would like to read for the upcoming months. We have a leader who has the daunting task of locating the books. You can find books in English in a few book stores around Saigon and on street corners but the selection is limited.

I tried the street corner bookseller when I first arrived and picked up Graham Greene's The Quiet American outside the Hotel Majestic on Dong Khoi Street for a song. I got what I paid for. The translation was limited, pages were missing and some pages were crooked..but I persevered. I was in Vietnam and experience is everything. I had the experience of reading a classic from a Vietnamese street bookseller...and my Kindle library has since tripled.

You can spot an expat book club reader in Vietnam on planes, trains and cyclos by the cover of their book. The paper cover is light blue, the text is black and they have that "hot off the press" look about them. Such is the life of the expat book reader. If you do not own an electronic reader or are a purist at heart, you have to take what you can get. It's all in the experience, I own a few of those tell tale books and I doubt I will ever part with them.

Our book group is connected with the ILV, International Ladies in Vietnam, an international group that binds the expat community together.  The ILV is the "go to" for expats and is a great source for those who are looking for like minded people. If you are an expat living in Saigon, you have something in common. I say expats but you also find local English speaking Vietnamese in the group as well. You are bound to find a kindred spirit amongst them, it's worth it's weight in gold when that happens.

Our book club meetings vary in size and members come and go according to the duration of their stay in Vietnam. Everyone seems to be coming and going from somewhere. Today, we had a small group, one each from Germany, South Africa, England, America, Australia and India. I tell you, it makes for very interesting conversation and is a great source for book recommendations. I loved the story today of the German woman who is taking French lessons in Saigon. She has been studying for over a year and is impressed with the abilities of her Vietnamese instructors. Our Australian member is leaving Vietnam in July after a one year assignment, I know she leaves with a heavy heart for she has loved her time in Saigon. We rally and support, it is what expats do well.

Some of us meet on other occasions and many of us only meet at the book club. Conversation tends to run off topic frequently and I often wonder if we will ever talk about the book. I have come to accept the course of conversation and just go with it. If we talk about the book great, if not, that's ok too. It's the journey and the experience that matter..the books are a bonus.

If you enjoy travelling, as we do, you will enjoy travelling with these books...

To Spain with

First Paragraph..
A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story. He will never forget the sweet poison of vanity in his blood and the belief that, if he succeeds in not letting anyone discover his lack of talent, the dream of literature will provide him a roof over his head, a hot meal at the end of the day, and what he covets most: his name printed on a miserable piece of paper that will surely outlive him. A writer is condemned to remember that moment, because from then on he is doomed and his soul has a price.

To Australia with
First Novel

First paragraph...
27th April 1926...On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross. A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below. Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted. '...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,' she whispered. 

To Cambodia with
First Novel

First paragraph...
War entered my childhood world not with the blasts of rockets and bombs but with my father's footsteps as he walked through the hallway, passing my bedroom toward his. I heard the door open and shut with a soft click, I slid off my bed, careful not to wake Radana in her crib, and snuck out of my room. I pressed my ear to the door and listened.

To South Africa with
First Novel

Book cover ...
There are Ants in my Sugar is the warm hearted, engaging and humorous account of Annica Foxcroft's exile to a pondokkie in the country, when unexpected financial hardship overtook her family during the 1960's. Annica is a sassy young woman to whom the city chic of Johannesburg, and the dire warnings of her decorator friend Harry, still cling like perfume, as she is dumped unceremoniously on a plot in the dark, landing on a pile of blackjacks. She has to adapt and make a home for her baby daughter and aging husband amidst boreholes, long drops and Aga stoves... 

Next month
To Vietnam with

First paragraph...
The first shots came as they were flying northeast toward Danang. Over the terrific noise of the engine and rotors, she could hear a "pinging" sound, something like coins being lobbed against the metal where she was sitting. It wasn't particularly loud, and didn't sound remarkable or worrying. For many minutes she sat stiffly in the nylon seat of the helicopter, the wind rifling across her trouser legs, sending her field jacket back so that she could feel a button pushing against her hence, being aware of many things, but not the pinging sound, the bullets directed at her, at all of them, as they spun above a canopy of jungle. 

I will miss the next the five months of book club meetings but will keep tabs from New Hampshire. I will be back in regular attendance again in October 2014..and when I return, just maybe, I will sign up for French lessons too. I am thinking about it...such is the way of an expat book club in Saigon, you just never know where the conversation will take you.

As always, the books above and many more are listed in The Brown Paper Book Club here

Happy Reading my friends!

Jeanne xx

speaking of New Hampshire,
if you missed  
Stone Rising at Tahilla Farm
you can read all about it 

Tahilla Farm
and via Dan Snow's post
Mending Pasture Fences 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Lone Mango...

Shortly before we moved into our home in Vietnam, a tropical storm swept through and uprooted a large fruit bearing mango tree on our property.  We were left with a large stump about 5 ft tall supported by beams to keep it upright.  We took one look and suggested removing it and replacing it with another. From our estimation, there was little hope.

Cries of horror ensued by our gardener, Mr. Thuan, and our driver, Mr. Khai, a gardener at heart. So we listened and let them do their magic in an effort to bring the tree back to life.

I am happy to report that after two years, it is thriving and no longer requiring support.  Sadly though, not a single mango appeared during that time, until this week. Mr. Thaun and Mr. Khai spotted it, high in the tree, one lone mango, growing in earnest. We are all overjoyed and keep a steady eye on our lone mango with hopes that there will be more to come.

Before we move from Vietnam, 
I hope to one day be like
The Lady in the Mango Garden
holding two mangoes.
This lovely painting is by
Vietnamese artist, Nguyen Trung.

I think it would be a perfect compliment 
to Chateau Mango.

Lady in the Mango Garden
Painted by Nguyen Trung
Galerie Nguyen

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ben Thanh Art & Frame and Galerie Nguyen HCMC, Vietnam

When the heat starts to rise in Saigon you will find me dipping in and out of galleries around the city. It is a cool respite from the steamy days that are rolling in and a chance to catch up on wonderful Vietnamese art. If you live in Saigon or plan to visit, I would put Ben Thanh Art & Frame and Galerie Nguyen on your list. Two galleries, around the corner from each other, owned by the same person. Any one of the many sales assistants that greets you will be only to happy to assist you. I think they are among some of the best in Saigon. 

We have long admired the work of Hong Viet Dung and always enjoy seeing his latest work. I thought the following were interesting for their shape and traditional Vietnamese colour..what I call "mango". Both pieces brought me back to the early days of Saigon..telltale signs of a bygone era.

The gallery owner, Nguyen T.T. Suong has this to say about his art:

"HONG VIET DUNG is a messenger of peace. 
His body of work embodies all that which he holds true-peace 
and attainment thereof. Each canvas that bears his name is Zen-like 
through his chosen elements, colours, techniques. 
A serene landscape, a solitary soul, a singular moment 
manifested so effortlessly. In each of his work a story unfolds-
a universal message of lasting peace.

It is evident in HONG VIET DUNG'S body of work 
that one must see through the apparent simplicity of its elements 
to understand his message. Once you allow yourself 
to be immersed in the subtleties and details contained in each scene, 
the complexity of life slowly and steadfastly 
becomes immaterial and ceases to exist.

A keen eye will notice solitary details in his canvas- a boat, a farmer, 
a lotus, a water buffalo- all overshadowed by expansive forests, 
lakes or gigantic trees. They are by no means an after thought but 
rather accords the viewer an alternate perspective of what the artists 
considers essential. In the artist's own words, we glimpse his life's mantra: 
"I love to paint the simplicity of peacefulness around me."

and that my friends,
is what I got up to on a steamy day in Saigon.

Ben Thanh Art & Frame
7 Nguyen Thiep St.
Distict 1
HCMC, Vietnam
Tel: (+848) 38233001

Galerie Nguyen
139 Dong Khoi St.
District 1
HCMC, Vietnam
Tel: (+848) 38242723

#expatdiaryvietnam  #collageoflife
Photos: Jeanne Henriques

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gardening at Chateau Mango...Vietnam

Every once in a while, I wander to the front of our yard 
and snap a pic of the front of our house.
I then go to my computer to compare photos to previous pics....
just to see if the colour has changed.
It never does and I always seem to hope that it will. 
Shades of mango continue to shine.

 The only natural progression is to plan flowers accordingly. 
I recently picked up hibiscus in shades of orange and red. 
I am still in search of the right pots for a few. 
Our lotus blossoms continue to grow into the most amazing beauties. 
I will forever be in love with the lotus flower. 
It speaks to me...in a multitude of verses.

This week we had another shining beauty. 
I am in search of the name, it has a wonderful fragrance.

I am creating a Vietnamese herb garden. 
We snip from it regularly, a collection of Vietnamese mint, 
betel leaves, kaffir lime leaves and a few others I am trying to translate. 
We do not have a traditional garden...more an eclectic, eccentric garden.  
I never cease to be amazed by what Thuan, our gardener. uses to grow plants in. 
The betel leaves below are loving their new home.

Every day I find another little something hanging from our trees. 
Khai, our driver, has developed a love for orchids. I love orchids too.
I recently purchased a few books on orchids in Vietnamese for him.
I am letting him run with it, curious to see how he gets on.

Khai is also the keeper of the pumpkin plants. 
We attempted last year without much success. 
He is determined to make them work. 
The weather is warming up and the rainy season will not be far off. 
I do not hold out high hopes for this one. 

Last year we organised the climber below to take hold 
and give us shade from the morning sun on our veranda. 
Khai had a plan and it seems to be working. 
He is a gardener at heart with a clever green thumb. 

 And another climber below, 
under the watchful eye of Khai and Thuan.

When we leave Vietnam one day, I intend
to bring memories of Vietnamese gardens with me.
The paintings below are hanging in my office.
More on Vietnamese art next time....

I leave you with a mini view of passing water hyacinth 
along the Saigon River.
I walk past every morning just to watch it flow past...


Friday, February 28, 2014

Coffee Beans and Post Stamps...Saigon

Before I contemplate navigating a street in Saigon, I need to
ensure I am of sound mind and body. To do that, I need a 
double shot of something..in this case it was a coffee at 
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf at Kumho Asiana Plaza.

A few sips and a deep breath and I was one my way.

I have been making an effort to write more..the old fashioned way.
To buy international stamps in Saigon you need to go to the
Saigon General Post Office...a popular destination spot for tourists.

I have yet to get a decent shot of this building...
all I can say is that
it is worth the visit when you go.
Especially for the stamps. 

Saigon General Post Office
 2 Paris Commune Street
Distict 1
Ho Chi Minh City

Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf
39 Le Duan Street
Ben Nghe Ward
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City


What Sean and Martha from the UK 
think about Ho Chi Minh City...

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ooh la la..exercise in Saigon

Poolside aquafit

"Oohh la la..let's exercise"
There is only one person who can say this without getting 
a shrug from me and that is Caroline from aqua fit. 
Caroline is French and has to be one of the most enthusiastic
and energetic people I have come across in Saigon. 

I call this class my "French Connection" for it seems
that nearly everyone in the class is French. 
Caroline calls out
" un, deux, trois, go, go, go"
and we all peddle to the max.

I love this class...
the bicycles are in the water.
We spin, we sprint, we paddle,
we push, we pull, we jump, we run in place,
we work hard..all in the comfort of a pool.

If you live in Saigon and would like to
try this class (and I recommend that you do)
You can contact Caroline via the details below.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New directions... #expatdiary #vietnam

On my first visit to Vietnam, nearly two years ago, my predecessor (the woman who lived in our house before us) kindly passed me her mammoth business card file book. All she said was "you will need this". I was mightily impressed. The cards were categorised and marked, explaining the obvious ...in English.
I still have that book and used it frequently until I started to venture out on my own. You would think, I would do the same, file them neatly away, by category. You would think...is right. Unfortunately, I didn't think.

So here I sit, tackling my own mammoth business card file. I feel like the little kid who sits down on a warm summer's day and decides to separate her M&M candy collection by colour and then discovers that they have melted into one big mess...the M&M signature...barely visible.
I persevered and thought of this blog and what it has come to represent these past 18 months. My original intention was to keep a daily blog of events. Unfortunately, I have one blog too many and it has not worked according to plan. I often wonder what to do about it. It dawned on me as I sorted and sifted that the answer was right in front of me. 
Readers often write to me with questions and as time goes by it is a more frequent occurence. The questions vary...
Some readers live in Vietnam and are looking for tips.
Some used to live in Vietnam and want to stay connected.
Some were here during the Vietnam War and read vicariously.
Some are planning a trip and would like suggestions.
Some are thinking of moving to Vietnam either for 
the firsts time or coming back after a long hiatus.
Some are travelling solo, some with a family.

It has been a fascinating journey...
researching and answering your questions.

With your questions in mind, 
I plan to make some modifications to this blog to allow readers
 to find what they are looking for.  
I thank you all for your interest!

Before you go, have you seen the movie
  Owl and the Sparrow by Stephane Gauger?
If you enjoy foreign films and want a glimpse 
into the Vietnamese culture, see this movie. 
I loved it!

view here

Monday, February 17, 2014

Travel Vietnam...in books and movies

Before moving to Vietnam I took every opportunity to learn about the country that was about to become my new home. I selected novels, cookbooks, guide books, picture books and movies. I have left no page unturned. Best of all, just when I think I have it all, I discover something new. 

For those of you who are new to this blog, Expat Diary Viet Nam, I have another blog, Collage of Life where I feature the Brown Paper Book Club. I have included it at the top of this page. Once you click on the link..you will see TRAVEL: VIETNAM ...listing my favourite books and movies about Vietnam.

Adventure at the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort

Last week I received a message via Instagram that made me smile.

I read your blog about InterContinental Danang and here I am. 
I arrived two hours ago. It is such a breathtaking place!
Vics Blog..Esotonian expat in Singapore

Small world that it is, I was at the resort as well. 
We were ships passing in the night but I was touched that
Vic read my blog post and remembered it. Even better that
she made the decision to travel to the resort as a result.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Our neighbourhood ...District 2, Ho Chi Minh City

Many of you may have already read my journey around our neighbourhood in a previous post on Collage of Life. For those of you who follow this blog only...the following is a glimpse into District 2, the area that we live in Ho Chi Minh City. I have explored many corners of it over our time here...and each time I always manage to find something new. Like Ho Chi Minh City central, our neighbourhood is forever changing...progress is most definitely in the air.