Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hong Kong

We just had three days in Hong Kong.

Had lunch with Matt Sears. He was Alex's buddy, inseparable, at age three at play school. In spite of his moving to Tokyo at age 5, and then Hong Kong, they have remained good friends. It was wonderful to see him, "all grown up" and such a lovely young man.

We did very little else. Tim was tired. The weather was overcast, the temperature perfect, need a sweater or jacket but not gloves or scarf. Hong Kong is a huge city, with a lively buzz like Manhattan. I love New York and the energy that crackles on the street. Hong Kong too.

The MTR (as opposed to the MRT in Sg) is very easy to handle. They offer a seniors rate on their Octopus card, and I travelled for next to nothing!!

Sign around the city. "Don't Keep Your Eyes Only On Your Mobile Phone". Everyone seems to walk around with eyes down. Particularly on and off the trains. Eyes down.

In at least one MTR, a bank off computers to offer free internet to anyone.

MTR seems to have the same English accent piped on the trains "Please Mind The Gap".

I wondered how Chinese worked their writing on a mobile. Watched a woman on the MTR write the Chinese character with her finger. It manifests as a  red drawing which then brings forth the word in our alphabet.

I did some things on my own, as Tim was napping. I was the only Caucasian on the train car. The Chinese on the train are of a different background than in Singapore. Singapore, their features are finer.

I went to some art galleries. Saw a painter, Shi LiFeng. I loved his work. A 48 year old mainland Chinese, making very strong political statements, using very realistic peach blossoms, and little red people. Worth googling, I think. There was a showing of Salvador Dali, and some of his furniture. the "S" sofa, the table that has an arm as one of the legs, elbow on floor, hand holding glass table top. A chair, the feet of which had high heels, one arm of the chair an arm, with a lovely graceful hand.

I am reading "The Gift of Rain" by a Malaysian author. He says of Malaysia what I could say about Singapore. A country, ruled by the Brits, populated by Chinese, Malay, Indian, Siamese. It is an interesting past, and much of the British heritage is seen in Malaysia,  Singapore and Hong Kong.

This is a pretty typical face of a building in the older part of Hong Kong. No central air conditioning unit. Individual units suspended on the exterior wall of the building.

I will now start putting together a few days in Laos, the one remaining country of Asia we have not visited. Tim will look at Maldives for some diving. This will be the second half of March. I will start photographing our belongings to see about selling our contents. Dreading this project. I know, oh poor me.

Friday, February 21, 2014

north Vietnam

I am doing this post the same as last. I have hundreds of photos and really words do not do justice to what we have seen. I only wish my photos were better. I do not want to experience Asia from behind a lens and yet I so want to capture the essence to trigger the memories.

Well here goes. North Vietnam.

Hanoi. A big city. Not unlike Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. HCMC is 11 million, Hanoi 5. Hanoi appeared a bigger city to me. Very Asian, in contrast to Singapore. Sights like this. Traditional dress. These hats are so practical. Rain, sun, a basket, made at home, and seen in all those uses.

A lovely old man on the street of Hanoi. Reading someone's astrology signs.

The Jane and Jane team, dressed for the cold in Hanoi. It was very uncharacteristically cold in Hanoi. I, once again, forgot my coat. When packing to go in 90' weather, a winter coat hanging in the closet did not come to mind. So I went to a North Face store (North Face is made in Vietnam) and bought another winter coat. That makes one from South Africa, (forgot a winter coat for SA (?)) and one from Hanoi!

A woman carrying a full load on her bicycle. Mask and hat, socks and sandals.

I think I might have posted a similar photo of the wiring in HCMC. You see indoor extension cords plugged in to the outdoor wiring!

The will to live.

A lovely lady taking a break. That is quite some load, carried on the ends of the pole over her shoulder.

The traffic. Mostly motorbikes, very few cars. It looks like chaos, but does seem to work. I have not seen an accident, nor have I seen a tourist have a heart attack at the prospect of crossing the street. Just sheer terror in their eyes.

Step in the door from this chaos on the street to a mall. You could imagine yourself on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Now we have taken a 9 hour overnight train to Lao Cai. I have pics of the train which will be at the end of this post. It was not as bad as it appeared it was going to be. We slept in our clothes. The important thing is we slept. Met at the station, breakfast of noodle soup and off to the Can Cau market. The drive was amazing. Hills shrouded in fog. The drive was just long enough. More time on those "S" curves and I might have felt less than  well. The women are gorgeous. They are all in traditional dress. No jeans and parkas to be seen. Wrapped in embroidered cotton, layer upon layer.


I have fallen head over heels over Asian babies. And then to see them in these colours.

The market had everything. And I mean everything. This guy is getting a hair cut. Behind him way off, there are the horses being traded. Pigs, water buffalos, birds, of course produce and meat, clothing, and then the inevitable STUFF from China.

Water Buffalo are very valuable. Expensive. Often part of the marriage dowry. The weather has been very cold. This family has given their buffalo a sweater. They have surprisingly little hair. Kind of like a pig. The are milk, meat, and heavy labour. They are very well treated and cherished by the farmers.

No such thing as child care. The mom and dad are down the hill digging the fields, and the kids are just there.

Our hotel room was freezing. Our hotel was freezing. The north was freezing. We had a room with 20' ceilings, and no heat source. They gave us a space heater which we left on full blast all day and all night. The room barely got the frost off. We pushed our beds up to the heater hoping to catch any heat that might come from the heater. Being the second day and night with no clothes change  I was thinking this is like a camping trip. This is first class in north VN? Yup. No going down to the bar for a whisky. The bar is not heated. We ate in the same restaurant both meals out because they brought a little charcoal bbq to near our feet. It was a small crowded place so there was body heat. Slightly warmer. Ate with coat and scarf on, taking gloves off only when the food arrived. We slept with hat and gloves!

To another market the next  day. I have hundreds of pictures of the fantastic colour.

Even their rubber boots are decorated.

It was big news. Somebody lost their buffalo who succumbed to the cold. So he was slaughtered and they were selling the meat. Butchering it on the spot as the orders came in. (You can see his head.) This would be tragic because a water buffalo is needed for the hard work in the fields and they are amazingly expensive. So sad.

We went to the Chinese border. Jane was very excited to "see" China. We went to a pedestrian bridge. The Vietnamese get a pass for $5 a month to cross the border. They bring their wares home on a wagon pushed and pulled by man power.

The two Janes survived the cold, and finished up on the deck after a warm shower. Gin and tonic has never tasted so good!

I would love to post more pics.

Now I am of to look at Hong Kong. We are going next week. To see Alex's buddy from pre-school, Matt Sears. And to have some clothes made. Just a few days.

Friday, February 14, 2014

I want to share my misery

I don't really think I will get any sympathy from my Canadian friends on this one! but in Singapore I might get some.
I am sitting in my hotel room in the mid afternoon. I have on ski long underwear, a ski turtle neck, a wool cashmere turtle neck, a polar fleece jacket and a lined NorthFace windbreaker. Leggings under my jeans. Socks  and shoes.
We travelled overnight on the train from Hanoi north 9 hours to the Chinese border. The train was awful. Well not awful, but an adventure. We had the 4 bed sleeper to ourselves. It was cold and pretty spare. I slept with all my clothes on but did kick off my sneakers. Under a comforter. Our room seemed to be right over a very noisy party of the train. The volume was very high. I thought there was no way I would sleep. But I did!
The train had only a squatter toilet, of course no t.p. I was so dreading getting up in the night and balancing in the moving train over the squatter. I slept throughout the night and  did not use it in the a.m.!
I got 7 hours of sleep.
We were met at the train station and taken to a restaurant for breakfast. At 6 a.m. Big bowl of chicken noodle soup and ginger tea with honey. Delicious!
Off in a car to the mountains. Two and a half hours later to a market of the local hill tribe- h'mong. I have unbelievable photos, but I am writing on my iPad and don't know how to get photos on to the blog from the iPad. So next posting.
The women are dressed in layers of heavily embroidered pieces - leggings, pants, skirt, vest, collar, apron, tie,  hat, scarf,. They all look like heavily embroidered Michelin men in the most vibrant of colors. Children in the same colors, strapped on backs.
They were selling water buffalo, pigs, horses, puppies, Veggies, fruit, hardware. You name it.
I was itching to buy some things but our guide told us to wait til tomorrow, the things will be much better. I can't wait.
We are in our hotel room, in the only hotel intown. I feel I am in the country in China a half century ago. The room is freezing. They have brought in a space heater, but I am in layers, and gloves off to type, but my fingers  are freezing. The bed is like a board, we switched rooms because the first one was dirty. So we wait for this one to heat up. I think hell has frozen over and it will never get warm.
We are off this afternoon to see another market. And tomorrow the really good one.
So do I get any sympathy for being so cold? I can't wait to get to Singapore and be warm. Sleep without socks. Put away the ski long underwear.

Monday, February 10, 2014


I want to be sure to post this before tomorrow. Jane and I got back from Myanmar last night.

It was a spectacular trip. Myanmar is beautiful, and on the cusp of being developed for tourism. I am so glad we got to see it now.

I have posted pictures (lots). I hope it is easy for you to get. Words can not do this experience justice. My meagre photos only begin to tell our story. Jane has some fabulous photos I am going to beg for.

This was the view from our hotel window upon arriving in Yangon. The large pagoda Schwendagon. I could give some history, but I am afraid I got overload on history and it might be totally wrong. I will just share with you some of the sights.

One giant of a buddha. Myanmar is Buddhist. The influence from India is obvious in the pagodas. Myanmar shares it's border to the west with Bangladesh, which was part of India and Burma, that  were part of the British Colony in the mid 19th Century.

I have fallen in love with Asian babies. They are absolutely adorable. This little pixie has thanaka on his cheeks and nose. It is a paste mad from sawdust of a tree. It is a sign of beauty but also protection from the sun.

Another. I have edited severely for this post, but I just have to show you these angels.

A woman at the "five day market". Every 5 days they come in from the country side. To sell their produce, and buy what they need. Lush vegetables. And TOMATOES. I do miss tomatoes. They seem to only manage cherry tomatoes in Singapore climate. But here they have cold nights, and I am guessing that allows the tomatoes to grow to a bigger size.

This is an unusual way to see the dome of one of the pagodas. If you are in the right place you get the reflection of the dome in a puddle on the ground. The amount of gold on these temples is breath taking. Myanmar is rich in resources. Gold, silver, tin, oil, natural gas. precious stones. It will burst into the global economy when it advances a bit.

The pagodas have a strong Indian influence. These all date to the 11th to 13th Century!

My dear buddy, the other half of the Jane and Jane team, chatting with our guide in Bagan.
And where is Bagan you ask. Oh no? Well we did a triangle. Yangon is the south, Bagan north west, Inle Lake north east, and then back to Yangon. Bagan is filled with temples, pagodas, shrines, stupas. All from the 11-13 C.

Sunset at one of the pagodas. The soil is dry dusty red clay soil, very arid in the dry season. When the rains come, it will swell to luscious green. But the lighting at dawn and dusk is spectacular.

We were so lucky to happen on a once a year festival. The monks have been the source for education and everybody would take some time to study at the monastery. They try to go at least once as a child, once as a teenager, and once as an adult. There is a state school system being started, but it has a long way to go. So we saw a parade, where these little girls were heading off to the monastery for a week, maybe, or three months, or a year of study. They were dressed up with makeup and sequins and silk, and it was a pageant. The parents are so proud. Some of these little girls looked like they felt like princesses, others, like lambs to the slaughter. It was amazing to watch the procession.

We went to a village. No water, so these women went to the well and carried their precious water home. Can you imagine how heavy that is? And in the heat? But do note the evre present smile on the women.

This old woman was smoking a cheroot, made locally. Tobacco cut with sawdust, so not so addictive. She holds a gourd to catch her ashes. Good thing, the homes are straw and bamboo.

A little rock in a basket

No electricity in the town , but I am sure I heard a phone ring, and it roll to an answering service.
And how cool to see this solar panel on this house.

Jane and Jane

Yet anther of my 500 pics of these panoramas.

And another one. The dust rising from the roads at dusk

One of my favourite photos. Cattle and goats being herded home at dusk.

Inle Lake. AMAZING.
Our hotel was on stilts in the lake. These fishermen were taught to fish this way by the Japanese when they occupied Myanmar 1942-1945. It is remarkable. The fisherman stands on the back of the boat, paddles with one leg by wrapping his foot around  a paddle. He balances, paddles and then he uses that cone to catch fish. The lake is 22 k long but only 5 m deep. It would be taken over by water hyacinth, but for the fishermen, who every time they go into town have to take a huge sack of water hyacinth that they have pulled out of the water. That is the way to keep the lake from being overtaken by these weeds.

It is like ballet on the water.

We did a home visit. The Myanmar smile ever present. This lovely old man sat and nodded to everything said. Did he understand any? Maybe not, but who cares, he was delightful.

These long necked ladies are amazing. They start at age twelve or so with a few brass necklaces and work their way up to many. It is a sign of beauty. She said it was only uncomfortable for a few months. They sleep on their side with their head held up with a wooden box. Those brass rings are heavy. How do they wash their neck?

Sunset off our hotel in Inle Lake. Spectacular.

Just one more of my many pictures of the fishermen.

Our lovely guide in Inle Lake. Jimmy is dressed very typically, a "longy" (a tube like sarong) a shirt, a beautifully knit "Irish knit" sweater, a heavy jacket, socks in his sandals. As the day warmed from morning maybe 10-15' to afternoon 30', he would peel layers. I can say I saw no adults in jeans or shorts, all men and women in longys. The women wear a plaid "flannel-like" shirt.

We went to where they make cheroots. They cut the tobacco with saw dust. It tastes awful, but I had to try. Notice Jimmy has peeled a layer, his sweater.

Went for a walk in to town from our hotel on stilts. These men were trying to drain this field. with a sump pump on a generator. They were in past their knees in cold mud. When the work day was finished they cleaned up in water that was the colour of black tea with milk.

And so we say a fond farewell to Inle Lake. This was our departure party seeing us off on our boat trip back to town. It was at 7 am, and we are dressed for the morning temp, maybe 13', colder on the boat.

Tomorrow Jane and I fly to Hanoi for 3 days, then an overnight train north west, 12 hours, to SaPa. It is near the Chinese border in the foothills of the Himalayas. We will visit hill tribes at their markets. Should be great. We are gone a week.