Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In Vietnam...an Expat Book Club

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

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...at Chateau 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.