Monday, December 17, 2012

Oh Christmas wrapping paper...where art thou?

I thought I was so clever.
When we packed up our house in England, 
I divided the contents.
Part of our shipment followed us to Vietnam, 
and the other half set sail to the USA.

I explicitly marked the Christmas boxes that
I wanted to go to Vietnam.
I guess I must have been distracted.
In opening them the other day I discovered..
those odds and ends for winter weather.
Ice scrapers, shovels....the sort of things 
I will have absolutely no use for in Vietnam.

But most disappointing is my 25 year collection 
of Christmas wrapping paper.
I imagine it is tucked away in the container, 
in a warehouse, in Boston.
Not helpful.

Not surprisingly, there is not a large selection
 of Christmas wrapping paper in Vietnam.
I decided creativity and ingenuity must prevail.
When in Vietnam do as the Vietnamese do.

In fact, I am kind of glad that I had to move on.
I am enjoying the change of pace.
I was lucky enough to grab a few things at
 French Christmas market in our compound.

My wrapping paper of choice...

9 Nguyen Phuc Chu An Hoi

Their gift paper is hand screened...with a choice of 
three symbols and their meanings. A nice touch, to pass
on the message to one who receives a gift wrapped in this paper.

The Owl
Ruler of the night,
seer of souls and a true keeper of spirits.
A symbol of wisdom, mystery
protections and secrets.

The Fish
Water is a universal symbol 
of subconscious and depth of knowledge
the fish representing transformation 
and creations
A symbol of fertility, creativity, feminity and
good luck.

The Bird
Air animals assist us with matters of 
higher knowledge- heralding our desires 
to the gods in the skies.
A symbol of communciaiton,
 curiosity, vibrancy and clarity.

Christmas wrapping just took on a whole new meaning for me!

A few coulourful accents go a long way.

I came across these little tags at another booth...
I wish I had grabbed a card..they are a lot of fun. the paper below may not be on a Christmas theme
but I was happy to have found it. I think it works in
a tropical climate. I may be stretching that one a bit...but
I am going to go with it.

Last but not least...when in doubt. 
I pulled out the stack of London Review of Books newspapers 
that I have not been able to part with.
It is time.
Perfect for small gifts...and interesting reading too!

Christmas paper....check
Sending Christmas presents overseas...
more difficult than anticipated.
It involves clearances by the post office, 
paying a tax for sending the item
 and wrapping gifts in the post office.

I think I will be passing out Christmas gifts 
for months to come during my 2013 travels.
That makes the wrapping paper just perfect! 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A night of Tchaikovsky in Saigon

The Municipal Theatre of Ho Chi Minh City 
is also known as the Saigon Opera House.
It is in the heart of the city on Donh Khoi street. 
If you travel to Ho Chi Minh will be
hard to miss.

I admit I wasn't sure what to expect and I walked away 
pleasantly surprised. The Ho Chi Minh City Ballet Symphony Orchestra and Opera 
was outstanding. Accompanying the Orchestra, were visiting artists..

Cello: Filip Tomic
Piano: Boris Kraljevic 

My favourite from the evening..
Variations on a Roccoco theme, op 33. for cello and orchestra
Love the cello!

Views from the front stairs of the Opera House..

 The theatre is small and simple compared to world class stages.
No matter, when they started to play, it was pure enjoyment.
Close your eyes and you were transported to Carnegie Hall.
A night with Tchaikovsky..a night to remember.

Variations on a Roccoco theme, op 33. for cello and orchestra
Cello performed by Yo Yo Ma

Photos by Jeanne Henriques

Friday, December 14, 2012

His and Chateau Mango

I had a pleasant surprise recently.
I discovered that our gardener, Mr. Thuan, 
moonlights as an artist by night.

When he asked if I would like to have a painting by him..I did not hesitate.
He asked for a sample and I gave him a painting,
recently purchased in the local markets.

My painting is on wood and highlighted with gold paint. 
Mr. Thuan, mentioned that he was not able to 
reproduce it exactly but would try his best.
Good enough for me.

We are delighted...
it has a brilliance in colour that speaks to Vietnam.
My first thought...the colour of our home, Chateau Mango.
His and Hers.
Since Mr. H picked the colour of the house..he gets the colourful one.
We will cherish them both.

In case you are wondering...
we call it Chateau Mango because 
it reminds me of the colour of a very ripe mango. 
It was painted in July as a suprise for me. 
I have been waiting for it to fade under the Saigon sun...
No such luck. 

Best wishes for a great weekend from sunny Saigon!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Historical snapshots...Vietnam

Old photographs and maps. 
Hard to resist.
I walked into a shop in Ho Chi Minh City,
and spotted a stack of photographs tucked away 
in the back of the shelf. 
I pulled it out, sat down on a little stool 
and slowly took each one in.
I selected my favourites.

A snapshot of history..
Photograph of Ho Chi Minh...1951
Photograph of Richard Nixon on visit to Vietnam...1953
Landscape scenes...time and location uncertain.
Map of Vietnam...1976

It's the little things...

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Street Life...Saigon

Walking along the side streets of Saigon can be an assault to the senses.
You never know what will happen when you pass from one
street to the next. It is one of the reasons why I am forever
fascinated by it all. It never ceases to amaze..

One thing you can always be certain of..
the smiles, always the smiles..

and flowers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Au Lac House in Hanoi

Sitting still in a restaurant is not one of my strong suits. 
My family sighs if we happen to get there before the crowds.
 It is a case of playing hide and seek.
This restaurant, Au Lac House
is a charming colonial French villa in Hanoi,
The food was good, would I say it is the finest dining in Hanoi? 
No...but there is plenty of that about. 
Would I go back? 
Yes..and I would head right to the terrace for tea.
It would be a great spot to catch up on your travel notes.

Au Lac House
13 Tran Hung Dao
Hanoi, Vietnam

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Morning Scent..jasmine and gardenia

In bloom, on my front step...
the most heavenly scent of jasmine mixed with gardenia. 
I am in search of this particular variety, a jasminum perhaps?

Or rather,
Murraya paniculata- Orange Jasmine or Jessamine, Satinwood.
I understand it to be a dwarf jasmine gardenia bush.
I plan to get to the bottom of that one.

Either way...
add the heavy Saigon heat to a flowering bush like this
and you are swept away.

On this 4th day of November 2012,
sharing morning scents from Saigon.

Photo by Jeanne Henriques

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The road from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

There was a brief idyllic moment on the drive from to Hanoi to Ha Long ...
all four hours of it, when I thought how lovely....
we are out of the 'toot toot' of the city onto greener country pastures. 
As I said, it lasted about a moment...ok maybe five. 
From that point onwards it was fast and furious...playing 'dodgem' to oncoming traffic. 
The 'toot toot' of motor scooters which by that point was music to my ears 
was replaced by the continuous honking of trucks and public buses on the move...
and yes, the silver car below...was going for it..they really thought they could pass that bus. 
The miracle of miracles..they all just managed to get by. 
I on the other hand, had completely worn the leather seat beneath me, 
gripping on for dear life. I did not let go...on the ride up to Ha Long 
or the ride coming back to the dark. 
You do not want to hear about that me. :)

Would I advise you doing the same?
Yes..but take a tranquiliser first, preferably a large one.

Was it worth it? 
Without question.

Ha Long Bay (or Halong) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
 featuring thousands of limestone rock formations. 
Many are covered in lush tropical plants and contain enormous hollow grotto's.
Fishing villages consisting of floating houses are dotted throughout the islands.
It is a way of life, like no other I have seen.

That's never ceases to be amazed.

With the sun moving in and out of the clouds..all the way to sunset.


images~jeanne henriques

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

W. Somerset Maugham and Saigon..1930's

Morning coffee on the Saigon River...where I go when I am in search of a quiet spot.
image- jeanne henriques

I have a passion for travel writing. Actually, it is more of a passion for books about travel, 
fiction and non-fiction. I was in a bookshop a few months back asking for recommendations 
on travel writing around Asia. There was no doubt in the bookshop owners mind, 
she gave me The Skeptical Romancer- W. Somerset Maugham by Pico Iyer.

Mr. Iyer compiled a collection of selected travel writings, written by W. Somerset Maugham. 
I am embarrassed to say, this was my first dip into Maugham's writing but I could not think 
of a better place to start. It was also my first introduction to Pico Iyer. I have a road yet to 
travel with his books...just reading this interview, tells me it will be a fascinating one.


                                     I  enjoyed The Skeptical Romancer, it travelled well...
in and out of my bicycle basket and countless travel bags.
It went with me wherever I went...
when I sought out a quiet spot..
just to read.

I write, fold, scribble and doodle in books.
It is a mark that it is a well read book and that I enjoyed it.
Every now and again, I pick one travel in time.

My latest fold and entire passage.
One of the reasons why travel writing can be so enjoyable...
the anticipation and the joy when you understand...even if only in spirit.

Saigon and Tourane.. W. Somerset Maugham

'At the mouth of the little river I got once more into the flat-bottomed steamer 
and crossed the wide, shallow lake, changed into another boat, and went down another river. 
Finally I reached Saigon.

Notwithstanding the Chinese city that has grown up since the French occupied the country, 
and notwithstanding the natives who saunter along the pavements or, 
in wide straw hats like extinguishers, pull rickshaws, 
Saigon has all the air of a little provincial town in the South of France. 
It is laid out with broad streets, shaded with handsome trees, and there is a bustle 
in them that is quite unlike the bustle of an Eastern town in an English colony. 
It is a blithe and smiling little place. 
It has an opera house, white and shining, built in a flamboyant style 
of the Third Republic, which faces a broad avenue; 
and it has a Hotel de Ville which is very grand, new and ornate. 
Outside the hotels are terraces, and at the hour of the 'aperitif' they are 
crowded with bearded, gesticulating Frenchmen, drinking the sweet beverages, 
Vermouth Casis, Byrrh, and Quinquina Dubonnet, which they drink in France, 
and they talk nineteen to the dozen in the rolling accent 
of the Midi. Gay little ladies who have something to do with local theatre 
are dressed in smart clothes and with their penciled eyebrows and rouged cheeks 
bring a cheerful air of sophistication to this far distant spot. In the shops you will 
find Paris dresses from Marseilles and London hats from Lille. Victorias drawn 
by two little ponies gallop past, and motor cars toot their horns. 
The sun beats down from a cloudless sky, 
and the shade is heavy with the heat and solid.'

'Saigon is a pleasant enough place to idle in for a few days; 
life is made easy by the casual traveller; and it is very agreeable to sit under the awning 
of the terrace of the Hotel Continental, an electric fan just above your head, 
and with an innocent drink before you to read in the local paper heated controversies 
upon the affairs of the Colony and the 'faits divers' of the neighborhood. It is charming 
to be able to read steadily through the advertisements without an uneasy feeling 
that you are wasting your time and it must be a dull mind that in such a perusal 
does not find here and there occasion for a pleasant gallop on a hobby horse 
through the realms of time and space.'

From the Gentleman in the Parlour
W. Somerset Maugham
Published 1935

image viaa

If you live in or have travelled to what is officially known as Ho Chi Minh City or Saigon
as many locals still call it, you will know that much has changed since the passage
above was written in the early 1930's. Too much change to recount in this post,
but I can say that you can still find the opera house,
and the Hotel de Ville which is now City Hall.

Glimpses of Ho Chi Minh

The Hotel Continental still stands and tourists flock to it in search of days gone by. 
There are plenty of cafes in Saigon, under the awning of a terrace, 
with wide electric fans overhead, where you can read the affairs of the day 
or as I have done, read passages from the books mentioned here. 

You will still find glimpses of the French Colonial era...
but not as much as you might like. A keen eye is needed. 
You have to travel to Saigon with an open mind..
it has so much to offer...but you must take it in quietly and slowly.
If you do, you just might be able to travel through time and space, 
back to the awning of the terrace of the Hotel Continental 
where a certain W. Somerset Maugham sat with the sun 
beating down from a cloudless sky, 
where the shade was heavy with heat and solid. 
Look closely..and you might find what you are looking for.

A terrace on the Saigon River...
where a ceiling fan gently tosses the breeze back and forth.
image~jeanne henriques

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Le Cong Kieu St- Saigon

Just in from a 10 day trip to the USA and slowly sliding back into life in Ho Chi Minh City. There is a process to arriving in Vietnam. After doing this a few times...I have decided you must take in Vietnam very slowly...the rush, rush, beep, beep of the city will come soon enough. One has to accept the heat, let in envelop you and take you on it's course.

Everything has it's time and place in Vietnam...

Before I left, I took a quick browse through what the local expats call 'Antique Street' and the local Vietnamese call Le Cong Kieu St, Saigon.

If you are confused about the use of 'Saigon', I was too, at the start. The city is separated into Districts, 24 in total. There are seven named urban districts, seven numbered districts and five suburban districts. I live in District 2, where many expats live. Life in the central city, in the day of Saigon, was predominately in District 1. I have been told (by Vietnamese) that many local Vietnamese still refer to District 1 as 'Saigon'. Our driver, Mr. Khai, never refers to Ho Chi Minh is always Saigon to him. Ask anyone and you may here a different version of this sounds good to me.

Le Cong Kieu St is small and filled to the brim with shops, butting right up against each other. I was a bit frustrated as I discovered that there was similar merchandise in every single one. Will you find 'antiques' on this street? could, if you had a specialist with you. Would you find mostly reproductions?...most definitely. Bargaining is essential and I had little time on this trip. I wanted to take in a quick 'look see' to determine if it was worth coming back to....I decided it was.

Apologies for the shots...iPhone is not ideal when you are snapping pics on the move.

and because I am easily distracted.... I can never resist a bicycle pic.
Fortunately for me...there are plenty to choose from in Saigon.

More on Le Cong Kieu

Photos by Jeanne Henriques