Friday, December 17, 2010

Another Move

I am now writing from my third apartment since I moved to Saigon in June of 2009. While Daphne and I loved our old place, the landlord, who had been studying abroad in England, was returning to live in it once more. After an exhausting and often frustrating search we found a new home not to far from the old one. In fact, it's in the same building but in a different block. The rent is $600 [$50 more than what we were paying for the old place] for the same size space but different layout. Things we like about the place: bigger couch, bigger TV, wooden floors, bigger kitchen, bigger bed, better quality AC, bigger shower. The only thing we find lacking is that the layout is shaped to include a hallway, making the living room a bit smaller and the extra bedroom smaller. Also, there is the lack of storage space. Thanks to the successful delivery of Daphne's seven boxes, our storage demands are much higher than the average expat teacher couple. Pictures below:


[We like the couch, despite the animal print motif]

[The larger bed, however, makes some of our bedding obsolete]

[la cuisine]

[la disastre]

In other news, if you want to see what it looks like when the Vietnamese win a football[soccer] game, it looks something like this:

[Vendors capitalize on the event by selling cheap flags on the street]

[The city becomes a party on wheels]

[I don't even know]

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Vacation Time!

The highlight of work like mine and Daphne's is the opportunity to leave the city fairly regularly. Living in HCM, regular trips away help maintain sanity in such a crazy place. Those that read my last blog entry will understand when I say that this trip couldn't have come too soon.

Friday - Arrival
Yvonne had once again opened her home to us in Villa Marina for our stay. There's no favour one can do you like a bed when you're in a place like Singapore, where prices are $100 a night even in the backpackers area. The theme for our trip was food. Daphne missed Singaporean food so much and listed all the foods she was dying to eat when we got there. Unfortunately, it would take a lot more than the six days we were in town to cover her dream menu. The Friday we arrived, the first thing we did after lunch was banking. I followed Daphne to four different banks where she cleared up one issue after another. This is part of a regular ritual for her every time she comes back to Singapore. One thing she had to do was opt-out of a new program her credit card was in that sent a code to your phone that you needed when making online transactions. That's great, except she doesn't live in Singapore and now couldn't do things like buy plane tickets while in Vietnam. "You mean you don't have a global phone number?" The bank clerks had difficulty wrapping their head around that one. What kind of Singaporean wouldn't have a global phone, right?
We had dinner with Daphne's parents and youngest sister, Georgina, who I was meeting for the first time. Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet Daphne's other sister, Michelle, on this trip as she and her baby son were contagious with Hand, mouth & foot disease. Dinner was good but there was so much! We ate at a local hawkers' centre/market and Daphne's mom kept getting up to get more and more food for us. When it comes to family feasts, Chinese can be just as bad as Russians.
After dinner, Daphne and I said goodbye to the folks and went downtown to meet some of Daphne's long time friends at #5 Emerald Hill, which is in an area of preserved colonial houses turned restaurants. The place was famous for its chicken wings but we were too stuffed to pursue so we stuck to the drinks. "Buy one get one martinis, only $16!" In Singapore, the food is quite cheap, but the drinking is very very expensive.

Saturday - A Wedding
The next day we went to the Singapore National Museum to see the Pompeii exhibit and brush up on some Singapore history. From there we went to a Buddhist temple where Daphne showed me how to get my fortune read. It was like a game, you get a wooden jar with a bunch of sticks, you ask a question in your head and shake the jar until one and only one stick comes out with some characters on it. You then roll two stones with one rounded side and one flat, if they come out the same you have to shake the jar again for a new stick, if they come up different then you take your stick to a counter and get your paper fortune. Daphne and I were both happy with our results.

That evening, we were running late for a wedding. Daphne's friend, Annie had just married and run off with a Spanish Swiss, Roberto, to Switzerland. This was actually the dinner, as the wedding tea ceremony was just for family. We arrived at the restaurant just in time to pass the bride and groom who were getting ready to march. As we get to the dining area everyone is standing and looking in our direction. Thinking that we were the bride and groom, the audience barely stops itself from applauding. One person in the back doesn't quite stop fast enough and releases a lone clap. Light laughter follows, cheeks flush.
After a really good four course meal at Da Paolo featuring the best Tiramisu I have ever had, we went with the newly married couple and friends down to the bay front, One Fullerton, and a club called The Butter Factory. The club has a $28 cover, which we avoided by buying four bottles of spirits, and consisted of two rooms, one hiphop, one electro, some very good DJing, good decoration, great sound system and a panoramic view of the coast with the Merlion and The Marina Sands in sight. As expensive as this place was, it didn't stop some patrons from buying one meter tall bottles of Belvedere Vodka. Our initial plan of staying until 2am already didn't offer us much chance for sleep. The fact that we didn't get home until 4am didn't help matters.

[Us With The Happy Couple]

Sunday - A Birthday
The next morning we had to be up to go to an 8am three hour yoga workshop with Yvonne. When I woke up, I kidded myself into believing that I was only tired and could make it. Halfway there in the taxi I had my hand over my mouth and was tapping the taxi driver's shoulder. The taxi driver was very nice to me and gave me his water, his way of showing gratitude that I made it out without messing on his cab. I spent the entirety of the yoga workshop sleeping on a couch outside the room. Daphne and Yvonne said it was a good class, I'll have to take their word.
We headed to a boat dock next where Yvonne had rented an 80 ft. long three story boat house for a delayed birthday party. The boat was beautiful and aside from a brief shower the weather was good. Yvonne's helper, Samita, cooked an amazing Sri Lankan feast. Fresh air, (fairly) clean water, good food, good day. We after partied at Daphne's friend Ruqxana, whose 1970's Beatle is probably the oldest running car in Singapore. Unfortunately, Ruk's nine cats, who although were very sweet and tame, gave Daphne a massive allergy attack leading us back to Yvonne's in search of antihistamines.

[We Had A Wii, But Nobody Touched It Because We Had A Boat, Too]

[People Are Going To Live There Someday]

Monday - Walking
Monday we spent all day on our feet. We met Andria and her baby [commercially viable cuteness] for lunch and then went to a couple Buddhist temples with Daphne's parents and 4 yr. old niece, Zenna. Zenna didn't remember me and was shy at first, but she warmed up and I even practiced my Chinese with her. We went to Chinatown where I bought a bunch of tea and met up with Daphne's friend, Zi, at a tea house. While shopping for tea, the clerks at one of the stalls were staring at a counterfeit $100 bill a customer had just used on them. It was a very good fake, even had the ghost Franklin, but it didn't hold up to scrutiny next to a real one. Unfortunately, my lecture in identifying real from fakes did not award me with a discount for my services. Anyhow, after we had tea we went on a quest for fried radish cake. We had been trying to get it all week but every stall we had gone to was out. This time, we went to three different hawkers' centers around the island before finding a stall that was serving.

[Apple Juice]

Tuesday - Climbing
On our last day we went to Little India's Mustafah market, a massive crowded places that sold everything. I bought some Darjeeling tea and Daphne got some yoga gear. In total, I had bought 1.5 kg of tea on this trip. Am I a nerd or what? At night I went climbing with Yvonne and her kids, Rohan, 7, and Uma, 9, while Daphne hung out with her friend Jeanne. These kids are every mother's dream. Very smart, outgoing, bilingual and well mannered. They took to climbing instantly and when we were on the boat, Rohan was the first person to do a dive from the top of the boat into the water. These kids aren't video game deprived either[they each have their own DS and a Wii] but they enjoy doing other things as well. Yvonne should write a book.

[Rohan Showing Us How It's Done]

The trip was a much needed change of pace and literally a breath of fresh air. Daphne even said that it was the best time she had in Singapore in a long time and wished we could have stayed longer, but its back to grind and honk of Saigon for us.