Monday, July 23, 2012

God Canberra is Cold. Anyone else notice that?

This time last week I was on a beach on Bintan Island  in Indonesia. Today (sigh!) I'm back in my office, gradually working my way through a really quite stupid backlog of e-mails* And I can't help noticing that Canberra is a lot, lot colder than both Vietnam and Indonesia.

Still, in many ways, it's nice to be home and back into work**

 In case you're wondering, we had an absolutely lovely time while we were away. And because it is traditional on these occasions I'm pleased to present (Ta Dah!):


To start with, here is my son, somewhere on the streets of Hanoi

Min and I have an idea for the producers of 'The Amazing Race' - next season, all teams should have to run the race with a 3 year old in tow. It would make things a lot more interesting for all concerned. As you can tell from the expression on Toby's face, he's not particularly happy in this shot. There were a number of reasons for this. One of them was that as a born and bred Canberran, he's not overly used to 35 degree days with 89% humidity. Another was that he's at the perfect height for having his face and head patted and touched by pretty much every person we met. The Vietnamese are lovely people, and they really loved Toby. Sadly, after a few hours, he began to get just a little, well, tetchy from all the attention.

Still, in actual fact, travelling with a toddler was fantastic, and meltdowns aside, some of the most memorable moments of the whole trip involved Toby. One good example was on our final day in Hanoi, when we emerged into the hotel foyer to find our son, the doorman, the hotel manager and one of the receptionists all on their hands and knees in the foyer, playing with the set of toy cars that the manager had just given Toby as a goodbye present.

Hanoi itself was just wonderful. It had interesting shopping:

Interesting wiring:

And it's monsoon season there at the moment, so every afternoon the clouds would roll over, and the streets would go from chaotic to this:

There was also some amazing food and eating*** and plenty of walking around.

From Hanoi, it was a quick hop down to the ancient city of Hoi An**** where we stayed at a lovely little homestay establishement, just a little out of town. The family running it were incredibly welcoming, and it quickly became our little refuge from the touristy madness of Hoi An.

Hoi An itself is beautiful - just a stunning place, especially at night when the whole town and river is lit by paper lanterns.
Evening in Hoi An
It is, however, very touristy, with more touts and pressure than anywhere else we visited in Vietnam. The biggest industry by far is Tailoring, and we all had some lovely clothes made up, but I couldn't help the feeling that the tourism was something of a double edged sword for the town; as well as becoming the main driver for its survival, it has also really had an impact upon the overall feel of the place.

Still, it is stunning. There's no denying that:
Hoi An Countryside

From Hoi An, we flew down to Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City, as it's officially titled). We only had three days here, and barely scratched the surface of this amazing, growing, cosmopolitan playground. I especially enjoyed just wandering around the city, soaking in the site of so much history. On our second last day, I booked a car and guide to take me out to the Chu Chi Tunnels, where some of the bloodiest and nastiest fighting in the Vietnam war took place. The tunnels themselves were amazing - they've been expanded to fit large western bodies, but I still only managed to get through 40 of the 100 or so meters that are open to tourists. And I've never suffered from claustrophobia in my life. Just as interesting was chatting to my guide (who asked not to be named in any reviews of the trip) about life in modern Vietnam. We talked about the reality of re-unification, the differences between the north and south that still persist to this day, and the long shadow of the war, which still touches most Vietnamese lives in one way or another. It was an insight into the country that I didn't get anywhere else, and one of the most valuable parts of the trip for me.

Then it was on to Indonesia, to meet with my family for a week at Club Med*****

This was my first experience of Club Med. And Min's. And, I hate to say this, it was - in its own way - kinda fun.****** It was particularly good for Toby who got to play with his cousins from Holland for a whole week:

There was a lot of swimming. Kyacking. Eating. More swimming. Archery. Elephant rides. And swimming.

Oh, and there was also a trapeze school:

While we were at Club Med, my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Perth, managed to complete my parent's collection of grandchildren with their first child, a little boy named Kalvin Nicholas, who turned up a month earlier than expected, but in excellent condition. Even though he didn't know it, his birth was big news in northern Indonesia, and was roundly celebrated.

And then, sadly, it was back to reality. And Canberra. We got home last Thursday night, very tired and jetlagged after about 24 hours on planes and in airports. We picked up our very happy puppy from the kennels, reclaimed our very ambivalent chickens from the neighbours, unpacked, washed up and got ready for the working week ahead*******

Which brings us to now, really. In the weeks ahead I'm going to launch back into my writing, knock over the (hopefully) final draft of The Hunter (I'm thinking of changing the title to 'The Hunter Games' - what do you reckon? Catchy?), plus a very busy semester ahead.

And, of course, some blogging. Occasionally ;)

* which is the price you pay for resolutely ignoring your e-mail for 3 weeks while having fun.
** I'm fairly sure that UC monitors this blog :)
***Actually, eating tended to be something of a theme on this trip
****That is, it would have been a quick hop, if not for the 4 hour delay that Jetstar managed to impose on our departure.
*****Please, don't judge me.
******But also kinda like joining a cult for a week.
*******In my case, this involved spending 4 hours making an enormous pot of Vietnamese Pho for breakfasts this week. Pho has become my latest obsession. And, trust me, it's a good obsession to have. 

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