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Monday, June 24, 2013

Putting an end to the Madness


OK.  It kind of goes without saying that this is a difficult post to write.  After three and a half years, it’s time to put an end to the madness.  The Mekong Moggys Madness that is.  As we draw closer and closer to that looming departure date it’s time to wrap things up, put a bow on it and pop it on the cyber shelf in preparation for the next chapter of our lives.

I initially started this blog as a way to share our experiences here in Vietnam with family and friends back home.  I then realized that what I was actually doing was a diary of sorts.  Something that I could keep forever and reminisce over. It has always been more of a photo journal than anything.  I am not a photographer, I’m not a writer or author and I am certainly not a social commentator.  The Madness is just purely a little about what it’s like to live in Vietnam, especially with kids, from my perspective.  Much to my surprise other people seemed to find it useful as well so with that in mind I added a few things that might be helpful for anyone coming to visit or thinking of living here.

The last few weeks have been akin to ripping a band-aid off 1 millimeter  at a time.  I’m going to try not to fill this final post with clichés but it’s been a fascinating transition for me personally, re-training myself for the “real” world.  I am notoriously awful at goodbyes.  I try to avoid them at any cost.  I have found myself going out less and less in order to avoid seeing the amazing Vietnamese people I usually interact with every day, so I don’t have to tell them I’m going.  The Banh Mi lady, my Xe Om driver, the old Orange Juice lady.  Instead I find myself slowly reintroducing myself to Australia.  Reading Australian newspapers online, listening to Aussie radio, trolling the Internet for items we will need to buy upon our return.  In essence, I have mentally checked out already.  And you know what?  It’s ok.  I feel ready.  I feel excited.  I am nervous but looking forward to the next step.

Looking back, what an adventure it has been. I’m not going to attempt to sum it up in a paragraph suffice to say that the 4 of us are leaving very different people than the 4 who arrived in early 2010.  Wonderful memories, incredible opportunities and renewed perspectives on life and the people in it.

I want to say a great big thank you to anyone that has taken the time to read my ramblings, especially those who made the extra effort to comment.  You kept me going when I usually suspected I was writing to myself.  To all of our fabulous friends and work colleagues, thank you for making our time here one we will never forget.  Thank you to the most amazing husband for sharing the journey with me and the 2 of the most awesome kids I know for being so incredibly brave, adaptable and trusting when your parents plonked you in strange country and said “right, this is home now”.  I am so proud of you and you set fine examples of what being a global citizen is about.



To Vietnam, what can I say?  Thank you from the bottom of my broken heart.  You have enriched me, frustrated me, overwhelmed me and educated me.  The changes I have seen in you over the last few years have been huge.  Some for the better, some….not so much.  But you are brave and determined and your future is bright.  You will always hold a very special place in my heart.

 Hen Gap Lai.

Thanks to Mark Stennett at Drift Photography for this wicked shot of Nick and I.  Damn this crazy town.  We will miss you so.......








Thursday, June 13, 2013

Square One. Express Business Lunch at the Park Hyatt

Saigon does lots of things well and a good fast business lunch is no exception.  There are loads of places around town where they pride themselves on good food, great service and the ability to get you in and out in under an hour.  The Park Hyatts signature restaurant happens to do a fabulous one of these deals.  These lunches are a great opportunity to sample what some of the best restaurants in town have to offer without breaking the budget.  Eating at most of these places in the evening would cost a lot more, so if you are a traveller, these deals are perfect!  The lunch is 330,000VND ++ per person which is about 17 dollars.  Considering this is arguably  one of the best restaurants in town, it's a steal! This gets you the obligatory bread basket, a choice of about 5 entree and main sets, a scoop of ice-cream or sorbet for dessert and tea or coffee to finish.  Now THAT'S hard to beat!
Square One is located on the mezzanine level of the Park Hyatt.  The setting is plush and inviting with just the right amount of bustle to make it not too sterile.

No fancy while table cloths make it a pretty relaxed vibe.  The service was extremely attentive.  Almost overly so!

What is obviously home baked bread with a capsicum reduction is complimentary.

Never too far from the action, you can watch the team prepare the meals.

The wine was quite expensive by the glass at around $10 but there are some reasonably priced bottles available for around $35.  What's a girl to do?


My entree was a persian fetta tomato salad.  Small but tasty.

Nick had prawns.

My main was pan seared sea bass on cauliflower puree with spinach.

Nick had the curry.

Nick had vanilla ice cream and I had raspberry sorbet.
Coffee to finish.

We really enjoyed it!  All in all I think it's a pretty good deal.  The meals are not huge but designed for the 3 courses so we were definitely satisfied when we finished.  The Park Hyatt is located pretty much in the centre of town on Lam Son Square overlooking the rear of the Opera House.  We hadn't made a booking but they had no trouble fitting us in.  A great way to sample the fare of one of the classier places in town at a fraction of the cost.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Teeth Whitening in Vietnam

Whilst not really an overall fan of cosmetic tourism, way too risky in my opinion, when it comes to dentistry, Vietnam can be a great option.  The trick is to find a reputable place.  In Australia dentistry can be terribly expensive.  As an expat living overseas, it can be a good opportunity to make the most of it and get some work done. As I recently noted on the blog I had my 4 wisdom teeth removed and also all of my old mercury fillings replaced as there was decay under them. I have a terrible fear of the dentist.  I mean a REALLY bad one.  There was a stage in my life when I shamefully admit I went well over 25 years without visiting one.  Due to this I decided the way to go for me with the extractions was to use sleep dentistry. A qualified anesthesiologist is brought in to the clinic and I slept whilst the procedure was performed.  Apparently it took over two hours but obviously felt to me like 2 minutes.  It all went very well and set me back just under $2,000.  A lot, I know, but for me well worth it.  

Now that all of those ugly silver fillings were gone I felt I may as well finish the job and went in last week for teeth whitening. I chose to have the in chair whitening at a cost of just under $300.  I was in and out in under an hour.  I had had this done about 4 years ago and vaguely remember some discomfort so I took some asprin before hand. There were a few seconds of a "zinging" sensation on about 4 occasions but other than that it was fine. I already had the trays so bought some extra gel so I can top up once a year.  They were $20 per tube and one tube is enough for a once a year top up.  I actually thought that my teeth were pretty white to begin with but when you look at the before and after shots it shows that it really is very effective.





We use West Coast on Dong Khoi St.  Dr Andrew removed my Wisdom teeth and it was their dental hygienist who did the whitening procedure.  We have been using this clinic for 3 and a half years and I have no hesitation in recommending them.  They are an international clinic with a wide range of services.  So now that I have had all of this done I have no intention of entering a dentist for a few years.  Having said that, my fears have abated somewhat and I really do need to set a good example for the children.  They are booked in for check ups this week and Christopher will be getting fluoride treatments for his brand new grown up teeth.  So if you are living here or even holidaying, check out their webpage.  They are happy to make appointments over the web and you could save yourself some money to spend at the markets!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Southern Women's Museum of Vietnam



With my shopping very much curtailed due to the fact that our belongings are on a boat somewhere between Vietnam and Australia and with payday not until Thursday, it was time to find some things to do around town that are easy on the hip pocket.  Now there is not much easier on the hip pocket than free.  That is what it will cost to visit the Southern Women's Museum of Vietnam.  Located at 202 Vo Thi Sau, just head up Le Quy Don until you reach the end and you will see it across the road.  Open early from 0730 but closes for lunch.  When I arrived at 0900 there was no one there and the guy was running around for me turning all of the lights on!
The museum is divided over 3 levels and the displays recount the role of southern Vietnamese women in both national construction and defense.  It opened in 1985 and sits on the former palace of the Police Force General in Saigon.
I have been trying to find out who this lady is and for the life of me I can't figure it out.  If anyone can enlighten me that would be great!


The first level holds a lovely display of costumes and jewelry through the ages.  From the evolution of the Ao Dai to minority dress and jewelry its a fascinating peek.  There was no air-conditioning but it was large and airy with plenty of fans.
The whole museum itself is separated into about 10 rooms each focusing on a different aspects of women's contributions to the country.  As you leave this room you will enter one that shows the skills of loom weaving and silk making/colouring.







 As you leave that room and head up to the next level the mood becomes much more sombre.  The next 2 levels pretty much outline the large contribution that Southern Vietnamese women have made during the many conflicts and uprising over the years.  There is no sugar coating however it it absolutely fascinating to read and see their impact.

Most of the artifacts/letters/displays have brief english translations.  The one above did not require one.
The women of Vietnam were not the type to sit at home and stoke the fire whilst their husbands and sons fought.  Oft times they were right there beside them.  Whether that be in battle or in prison.  I was fascinated to read of the numerous Political female prisoners held in Con Dao Prison.  No wonder no Vietnamese people want to go there for a holiday!





This series of photos particularly touched me. They call them the Heroic Mothers and they have all lost numerous family members, usually multiple sons, in conflicts.
How do you lose 8 children and 2 grandchildren to war and keep going?




This is Vo Thi Sau. A schoolgirl guerilla and a Martyr in Vietnam. She became a contact for a local guerilla group after many of her friends and family joined  the resistance against the French.When she was 14 she threw a grenade, killing a French soldier and wounding 12 others but escaped undetected.  In 1949 she attempted to throw another grenade at a Vietnamese chief but was captured.  She was sent to 3 different prisons but was finally executed at 19 years of age. She is not only remembered here as a revolutionary but also as an ancestral spirit.  The street this museum is on is named for her.




I really think this museum is underrated.  Everyone tourist goes to the "other" one but this one is definitely worth a look.  I think to begin to really understand this country and its culture, a great place to start is to  understand its women. I left feeling sad, proud and highly impressed.  I have the utmost respect for the women of this country, both in the past and the ones of today.  They have had such an influence on making Vietnam what is it today and surely this shall continue into tomorrow as Vietnam grows into its potential.

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Lost Art of Jewelry Cleaning

Who knew?  One of my rings was looking a little dull so while I was out this morning I decided to pop into one of the many jewelry shops near the Market.  I was led to the back of the shop and was introduced to what I can only assume is the lost art of cleaning the shiny stuff.  I'm not kidding.  My ring just had the jewelry equivalent of a day spa!

Firstly the piece was assessed and a plan formulated.

It was then give a good polish.



He then wrapped a piece of copper wire around it and dunked it in this concoction.  Don't ask, I have no idea. It bubbled away in it's little spa for a good 3 minutes, raising out for a breath and an inspection every so often.
He then went all mad professor on me.  He attached in to a machine, twiddled the dials and rotated it through 3 different science beakers filled with I have no idea what.



I kid you not....he then gave it a blow dry.  Talk about a happy ending! (well if I am totally honest it was not THAT happy because he dried it with toilet paper).
And there you have it.  One sparkly ring ready to go in under 15 minutes.  How much for this incredible jewelry day spa I hear you ask.  50,000VND.  Thats about $2.50.  I KNOW!  If you are over here on a holiday it might be worth spending a few bucks and getting your stuff cleaned.  I have no idea what it would cost back in Aus but I doubt it's less than $2.50!


Monday, May 27, 2013

A post for those in Saigon...ever had Housekeeper/Nanny envy?

If there is one thing that has made our time here amazing it is this lady.  I have just posted on Anh Phu Neighbours Quyens availability from the end of June. I'm confident she will find the right job very quickly but thought I'd spread the word.  How do you sum up my "like having a husband but only more useful" domestic godess?  I did my best.  If you live here....spread the word!


Yes, she's the one you have been waiting for.  Our nanny/housekeeper Quyen is available from the end of June.  Quyen has been with us from the moment we stepped off the plane nearly 3 and a half years ago and has become a much valued member of our household.

She had previously worked for other expat families and has proven to be an absolute Godsend for us.  We are working parents with 2 children (they were 2.5 and 5 when we arrived) and she has made our time in Saigon a dream.  Her English is excellent and she can also read english which means she can make your favorite recipes from your cook books.(She has also copied many recipes from my cookbooks to take with her)  She has a wide and varied repertoire including firm family and kid friendly dishes like spaghetti, lasagna and fish fingers!  She does fab spring rolls and a delicious Vietnamese Chicken curry.  She loves to cook and is keen to try new things.   She has in the past done some amazing cheesecakes and lemon meringue pies for special occasions.  Just give her a recipe and she'll give it a go. She has also done a cooking course specifically geared for expat families.

Quyen basically ensures that our home functions smoothly.  She does our shopping, collects the children from school or the school bus, oversees any maintenance etc in the apartment and does all of our washing, ironing and cooking.

That all being said, her strongest traits are her honesty and initiative.  You do not need to hover over her and tell her what needs to be done and then watch to ensure she does it.  If we are out of something, she will restock.  Her honesty is impeccable.  I entrust her with our food budget and she runs it perfectly.
My children adore her.  She treats them like they are her own and she has been a strong and positive influence on their lives and their time in Vietnam.  She is a gentle soul but can be firm when it is needed. She has a very happy disposition and is a pleasure to have in our home.  I don't think I have ever seen her unhappy and without a smile on her face.(Nor as far as I can recall, has she taken a sick day!)  She currently works for us 9.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday.  She is also always readily available for babysitting/overtime.

Quyen would prefer a full time position in District 2 but tells me she would consider 2 part time positions. She would also consider working in other districts if necessary.  We would dearly love for Quyen to continue her employment in a happy home where she is as cherished as she is in ours.  Please contact her directly on 0167 733 3979.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Saigon Or Hanoi..Which Do You Pre..Pho?

Get it?  See what I did there.  I guess you will only find that mildly amusing if you are aware the the correct pronunciation of the Vietnamese noodle dish of Pho is similar sounding to the word "Fur".  Even then, maybe not!

I had had more bowls of this yummy noodly broth whilst living here than I have had hot dinners (this really is going downhill on the humor side isn't it?)  My point is, for the first time the other morning I tried Hanoi Pho.  Wikipedia reliably tells me that pho originated in the North.  The southern version is very different from the one served up to our northern cousins.  I thought I would try it myself.
Pho Thin HaNoi is located in district 3 next to my local CoOp Mart supermarket.  I go past all the time but have never been in.

It's far from fancy but it is usually places like that that serve up the best food around.  Big steaming vats of pho stock bubble away while the waiters (no real english speakers, bring your Google translate App!) run between tables.  It's a huge open restaurant and I would have to say not really the most hygienic I've come across in town but there you go.  As long as the cockroach stayed on my foot and not in my soup I was happy.

Although I'm not a vegetarian I usually have my pho without meat.  I just don't like the often gristly meat they use.  I find there is plenty of meaty flavor in the stock as they use meat bones and simmer for hours and hours, flavoring the base.


Usually the plate of garnishes is overflowing with greenery but not so for Pho Hanoi.  They prefer a more pure taste of the flavors in the base.  I added some lime juice, hoisin and chilli to mine.  The noodles were noticeably fatter and flatter than Saigon Pho.  I would have to say the taste was totally different to what I was used to.  It seemed much heartier and richer and I could really taste different spices in there.  A large undertone of Star Anise.  It almost tasted medicinal.  I could argue here that ALL Pho is medicinal.  It really is the best cure after a big night!  Anyway, did I like it?  Yeah, it was ok.  It's definitely a personal preference thing.  I really like my light, almost clear broth and skinny noodles piled high with all things green. Totally worth a try though.  Which do you prefer?


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Scarlett's 6th Birthday Party - Under The Sea

Ahhh, thats the sound of me sitting down to a nice glass of wine. What a week.  What a month!  We have the movers coming in on Monday and Tuesday to pack up our life to send back to Aus.  That being the case we celebrated Scarlett's 6th birthday this afternoon so her gifts could go in the container and not our suitcases.  She turns six next week so it is pretty much when we would have had her party anyway. After Christopher's Star Wars extravaganza I did not want to let her birthday pass without just a big of a fuss, not matter how busy we are.  She chose the theme Under the Sea...so thats where we went!

Cake made by the wonderful Simran.  You can find her online.










Gonna miss this lady!


Some of our little mermaids!



Tattoos all round.



Always a "hit" (see what I did there?)






Musical Statues...some "creative" dancing!

Scarlett was in charge of the music.

It's not really a party without it.



Mwahh...Happy Birthday Scarlett!

The loves of my life.


Thanks to everyone who came.  Scarlett had a wonderful day.  When I think about it she has actually spent more time in her 6 years living overseas but she is definitely still an Aussie Chick. Yet another wonderful day to add to our already abundant memories. X