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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.