Familiar Faces In Unfamiliar Places

Motorbike touring in Hue, where the rain was a great excuses to dress up as multi-coloured Starship Troopers, or weird relatives of Mr Blobby.

Motorbike touring in Hue, where the rain was a great excuses to dress up as multi-coloured Starship Troopers, or weird relatives of Mr Blobby.

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City with Stewart, a friend of Nicola who is a friend of Jenny, the sister of my friend, Ali. A tenuous connection at best. I must also mention that Ali’s daughter, Kate, recently raised a very impressive 61 pounds for Room to Read selling Christmas cards she made – how beautiful – thanks so much Kate your selfless social entrepreneurialism blew me away (ask Daddy what that means, actually, better ask Mummy).

Stewart, a keen Ironman triathlete, cycled out to meet me at Cu Chi, and he and his wife, Deirbhle, very kindly put me up for my first weekend in Ho Chi Minh City, but his kindness and help didn’t end there – more on that later.

Punctuated by blocks of high rise here and there, the buildings in Ho Chi Minh, previously Saigon, sprawled out from a compact central block of taller buildings at a relatively low height. As Stewart and I cycled in from the suburbs only the increased population of people and motorbikes suggested we had arrived in the largest city in Vietnam. Home to nine million people and five million motorbikes the low rise skyline was a retrospective observation. Avoiding said people and motorbikes was all consuming.

The rules of the road were quite easy to pick up as there weren’t any. Summed up later when my Mum read out Vietnamese traffic light rules from a t-shirt in Hoi An:

‘Green = I can go
Orange = I can go
Red = I can STILL go!’

The absence of rules, however, appeared to cause everyone to travel in anticipation of immanent fatal catastrophe, and somehow it seemed to work. Despite the volume of traffic and the every-man-for-themselves ethos there is an unexpected patience and I haven’t yet witnessed or experienced road rage. Perhaps it’s because everyone is concentrating on not hitting anyone else, one near miss leads seamlessly into another until you reach your destination, emotions take too long to form along the way and when you arrive you’re simply overwhelmed by gratitude.

Settling in to life in Ho Chi Minh has been surprisingly easy due to the people I have met. Anh and Yen, the Vietnamese couple in whose apartment I rent a room, helped me buy a motorbike from a previous tenant, and are always on hand to help me navigate the map of life hidden behind the witchcraft otherwise known as the Vietnamese language.

Learning Vietnamese has been like learning how to talk all over again. Beyond the obvious differences in words and letters lies a range of pronunciation and intonation combinations that have caused me to make noises never before heard by the human ear. I know this to be true by the looks of confusion and horror, often followed by hysterics, that adorn the face of my tirelessly patient language exchange partner, Quỳnh.

I had visited the restaurant only once before when I met Thuy, a local lady who shared a table with me over lunch. Through a common interest in Yoga, Thuy invited me to join her and a friend at the home of an Australian Vietnamese couple who offered classes on a donation basis. The second time I visited the restaurant I was sat searching for language exchange partners on my phone when Thuy’s friend (whose name escapes me) and Quỳnh walked in and joined me for lunch. Quỳnh, bless her heart, fearlessly volunteered to help me learn Vietnamese in exchange for my help with her English.

The spoken languages of Vietnamese and Cambodian, my Dad observed, ‘always sounds like someone’s getting a bollocking.’

In less than two weeks I had somewhere to live that felt like home, a motorbike, a language exchange partner, running and yoga buddies, and, thanks to Stewart, my first English tuition student. Oh, and a nice lady who sells fresh coconuts at the right price and a sweet vendor with the tastiest (and highly addictive) banana skin (yes, banana skin) , peanut, sesame and ginger sweets, yum yum!

Mum and Dad arrived into Ho Chi Minh on time but without their luggage. This turned out to be good preparation for the remainder of their visit. A busy schedule of travel and discovery lay ahead, some of which might have taken place on bicycles. When the luggage caught up, some drastic down-sizing of perceived necessity and ‘stuff’ saw three suitcases shrink to three twenty litre dry bags with space to spare.

The next eighteen days took in a tour of Ho Chi Minh, the Cu Chi Tunnels, a river cruise through the Mekong Delta to Phnom Penh, the killing fields, a taxi ride to Siem Reap where we cycled and walked around the UNESCO world heritage centre Angkor Archaeological Park, a flight to Da Nang on the east cost of Vietnam where we hired motorbikes to visit Hue, home to the Imperial City (another UNESCO centre) and Hoi An (yet another UNESCO centre), finally returning to Ho Chi Minh city to savour the last couple of nights.

Some pictures of the Baillie’s on tour….

Crocodiles at one of the stops along the Mekong Delta

Crocodiles at one of the stops along the Mekong Delta

A visit to one of the many islands along the Mekong courtesy of a local paddle powered river taxi

A visit to one of the many islands along the Mekong courtesy of a local paddle powered river taxi

Approaching the floating market. Once the heart of thriving trade between merchants from opposite sides of the Mekong, bridges now facilitate the majority of trade over land.

Approaching the floating market. Once the heart of thriving trade between merchants from opposite sides of the Mekong, bridges now facilitate the majority of trade over land.

Mum showing great promise lifting sheets of freshly cooked rice paper at a rice paper factory on the Mekong.

Mum showing great promise lifting sheets of freshly cooked rice paper at a rice paper factory on the Mekong.

Angkor Wat at sunrise.

Angkor Wat at sunrise.

Elephant taxi at Angkor Wat.

Elephant taxi at Angkor Wat.

One of many vast structures of the Khmer Empire dating back to the 9th century that comprised the 400 km2 UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Archaeological Park.

One of many vast structures of the Khmer Empire dating back to the 9th century that comprised the 400 km2 UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Archaeological Park.

Mum standing in the sprawling roots of a massive tree. Trees like these were responsible for demolishing large sections of the buildings within the site when it was abandoned due to water influx.

Mum standing in the sprawling roots of a massive tree. Trees like these were responsible for demolishing large sections of the buildings within the site when it was abandoned due to water influx.

The 72 meter Lady Buddha made of white marble, 15km along north of Da Nang.

The 72 meter Lady Buddha made of white marble, 15km along north of Da Nang.

Lunch with the locals. Choose your own freshly caught fish, then how you want it cooked and voilà! fish hot pot for three. Eating it with chopsticks was almost as difficult as ordering it with sign language. Still, it was a vast improvement on the two plates of fat an gristle we ordered the previous night.

Lunch with the locals. Choose your own freshly caught fish, then how you want it cooked and voilà! fish hot pot for three. Eating it with chopsticks was almost as difficult as ordering it with sign language. Still, it was a vast improvement on the two plates of fat an gristle we ordered the previous night.

The view from the marble mountains, Da Nang

The view from the marble mountains, Da Nang

The Dragon bridge in Da Nang at night. They're very proud of their bridges in Da Nang, this, the most impressive one, changed colour and everything.

The Dragon bridge in Da Nang at night. They’re very proud of their bridges in Da Nang, this, the most impressive one, changed colour and everything.

The Hai Van Pass on the way home from Hue. That's right - matching jackets, which caused quite a stir with the locals who now believe that matching clothes are an interesting quirk of married couples from Scotland. Our apologies to Scotland.

The Hai Van Pass on the way home from Hue. That’s right – matching jackets, which caused quite a stir with the locals who now believe that matching clothes are an interesting quirk of married couples from Scotland. Our apologies to Scotland.

Mum and Dad in Hoi An

Mum and Dad in Hoi An

I was totally spoilt the entire time, not so much by the extraordinary places we visited, the comparative luxury of the accommodation, or the delicious food we enjoyed. Which after eighteen months of bicycle touring felt like the sort of indulgences one might enjoy after winning the lottery. No. I was spoilt by the company of two of the most generous, caring and sincere people I know and have the privilege of calling Mum and Dad. Thank you Mum and Dad it was amazing to see your familiar faces in unfamiliar places, where will we meet again?

I’m pleased to say that life has gotten in the way of the ascetic daily rituals idealised in my last post, yoga and meditation being the only ones that continued as planned. More exciting changes ahead in the field of work look to further deviate the structure of my days away from the original plan. A great example of how setting goals and intentions, and putting yourself ‘out there,’ leads to events and circumstances that you could never have logically foreseen. All things going well, I will be spending a lot more time tutoring in possibly the best learning environment in Ho Chi Minh City, more on that next time….

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12 Responses to Familiar Faces In Unfamiliar Places

  1. Anne-Laure January 29, 2015 at 11:46 am #

    Glad to hear you’ve been having such a great time.
    It must have been great to see your family again.

    Good luck with the language learning and tutoring!

    • Fraser January 30, 2015 at 7:13 am #

      Cheers Anne-Laure

  2. Jane January 29, 2015 at 9:31 pm #

    Hi,

    Looks like you had an amazing time with mum and dad, pics are great. You must have been really sad to see them go. Good luck with the tutoring. Speak soon hopefully

    Lots of love xx

    • Fraser January 30, 2015 at 7:15 am #

      Hi Jane,

      It was amazing and I was very sad to see them go. Dad managed to get the departure flight time wrong, so the goodbye was rushed – might have been a good thing 🙁

      Speak soon – lots of love xxx

  3. Moonman January 31, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

    Frazzle, those Vietnamese roads still sound safer than when we used to cruise round broughton on our twist and rips aged 17!
    How many fairings did u get through……..

    • Fraser March 7, 2015 at 4:27 am #

      Haha! I remember it well. No fairings lost this time 🙂

  4. rosie February 7, 2015 at 3:26 am #

    I am glad you had a good time with your mam and dad.as my daughter says you get spoilt.when parents turn up. Its like xmas good luck to the next stage.xx

  5. Bowesy May 11, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

    Hi Fraser

    Not seen or heard from you for ages, are you still in Ho Chi Minh City or have you moved on to pastures new.? Trig popped round the other day after I serviced his bike and said he was coming out to meet you soon, would be nice to share a few miles with you. Hope all is still good and the yoga practice is still being kept up, been practicing a little Vinyassa lately starting to express myself well. When your back maybe you could teach me to teach.

    Keep Safe. Namaste

    Bowesy

    • Fraser May 14, 2015 at 12:42 am #

      Hi Bowesy,

      Good to hear from you. I’m still in Ho Chi Minh which is a very interesting place to stay. It would be great to see the lads if they can make out here. Get yourself out here if you can!! The yoga is going really well, just past the one year anniversary and the difference in my practise is fantastic. I’d be happy to help you out when I return.

      Namaste!

  6. Ashley May 13, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

    Hi Fraser, I hope Vietnam is treating you well and you are enjoying yourself.

    • Fraser May 14, 2015 at 12:44 am #

      All good thanks Ashely – update coming soon.

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