close your mind-tracks and leave fantastically

Welcome to my blog! After the year in Hanoi, Vietnam, as a VSO volunteer, I'm still depending on the assistance of my two faithful neurons for all there is to come. I might decide to keep you informed, you will decide to keep reading.

30 May 2007

me today

17 April 2007

more on Turtleocity

Go Turtleocity!

As Our Man rightly reminded me, I have a turtle fighting for her life right now, travelling from Costa Rica to the Galapagos. Obviously, and luckily, Turtleocity is not doing it by herself. There with another 10 friends...and guess where my turtle is??? Number 8.

Call for support, love and affection for Turtleocity. Check out her progress on Great Turtle Race and give her all the energy you can.

Check this out for live coverage.

I couldn't have asked for a better turtle, I'm soooo proud.

02 April 2007

tourists or travellers?

Here follows Alex Kapranos' last article for The Guardian's Sound Bites:

Sound Bites

End of the road

In the last column charting his gastronomic adventures around the world with Franz Ferdinand, Alex Kapranos is appalled by British table manners in Prague

Friday August 25, 2006
The Guardian

This is Prague. It's time to stop writing about food. There's a booth selling sweet dough that has been wrapped around a metal cylinder, roasted then coated with sugar, steam rising from the hollow stack like smoke from an Ottoman chimney. I'm in the main square by the astrological clock. It seems to be on the side of a church, in a marriage of superstition and religion. The queue for the sweet chimneys is about 15 long when the stallholder announces that he is shutting. He has run out of dough. Disappointment ripples along the queue like a domino rally. It reaches two teenage British girls with pink faces and heavy backpacks. It's too much for them. Consternation propels them to the lip of the stall, where the last of the chimneys is being handed over. They have an unquestionable sense of privately educated self-assurance. Girl One fixes the stallholder with an upturned nose and schoolteacher gaze. She barks like a vicar's wife.

"You can't possibly close! We're leaving tomorrow!"

The stallholder glances at her.

"I said, we're leaving TOMORROW!"

Girl Two pulls an anxious face that begs "please" like a dog at a dinner table. "Sorry, we have no more," says the stallholder.

"God, I just can't believe these people," huffs Girl One as they turn their backs on the chimneys. I think something similar. I don't know how many times Prague has been invaded, but tonight it seems to have been invaded by wankers: British wankers, German wankers, North African wankers and American wankers.

A tourist in his early 20s is explaining to another tourist in her early 20s that he is not a tourist: he is a "traveller". They have a tourist map spread on the cafe table in front of them, by the English translation of the menu. He is saying that his experience is richer. He looks, smells and acts like a tourist. I don't get it. Because he stays in a hostel rather than a hotel, is the veritas more veritable? Or is he just a git?

I'm a tourist. I tour the world. I don't feel I have to excuse myself. The travelling bit is dull. In my mind, that is standing around baggage belts hoping that my case hasn't been lost again. Of course I'm a bloody tourist. I don't have the insider's perspective. I feel like a stranger everywhere I go. I like that perspective. In restaurants, I love to sit with my back to the wall so I can watch the other diners. You see what authors and film-makers attempt to capture, but in real time.

Just because you're a tourist, it doesn't mean you have to behave obnoxiously. If anything, you should behave better than you normally would. Two great British cliches are a) to presume that if you are in someone else's country you can do what the hell you like and b) that if you are in a band it's obligatory to behave like a boorish thug.

The festival site feels like an abandoned cosmonaut holiday camp. Loose tiles fall into the paddling pool. The rusted umpire's chair has toppled over by the overgrown tennis courts. In the murk of the surrounding forest are shadows of buildings that could have been dormitories or centrifugal test chambers. Tinny loudspeakers broadcast bloc versions of easy classics: the Cornetto tune, Edelweiss, the one about the meatball rolling down a hill, all with soft Czech vocals. There's a huge home-welded spit and brazier.

The fire has settled to steady embers and two men grunt as they lift a meat-covered pole on to a ratchet system connected to an old engine. The meat must weigh more than either of them. It looks incredible, like a medieval feast transported to the mid 20th-century. Ministry are setting up on stage one. A tech is erecting the skull-encrusted microphone stand. The Pet Shop Boys are setting up on stage two. They are working out how the dancers can burst from the neon-lit white cube. We're somewhere in the middle.

In two weeks we'll play the Reading and Leeds festivals: the climax of a year and a half of touring. It has been an intense adventure - crawling across the planet, performing to millions of people. Each night as I walk on to the dark stage, the white light of the strobes and the white noise of the crowd send a wave of adrenalin to my heart, setting off a vascular explosion that feels as if it could kill me.

The blood feels as if it'll burst from the fingertips as the arteries fling it through my flesh. Before my pick flicks the strings, my toes have already flipped me into the air, hovering over the boards in a fast-frame of anticipation.

It's time to stop. You can only play the same songs a certain number of times before you get bored. It's time to stop because it is still exciting. It's time to stop because I need to live somewhere that isn't a bus or a hotel room. It's time to stop touring, so it's time to stop writing about food. What I eat at home isn't interesting. It's the same as anyone else.

30 March 2007

This is how it started

In red the itinerary taken during the month and half travelling - conditions? no flights. In the end we took all means of transport on roads and rivers. In the next few days details will follow.
Just as an indication, destinations were:
- Nha Trang
- Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City
- My Tho, Can Tho and Chau Doc on the Mekong Delta
- Phnom Penh
- Senmonorom
- Kratie
- Siem Reap and Angkor Temples
- Battambang (don't miss this one!)
- Phnom Penh
- Sihanoukville (another one not to miss)
- Bangkok
Same time, same place.

still a little homesick

my friends Hang, Quy (visit him at Baguette & Chocolat SaPa and you'll be given the warmest welcome), Violaine, Chi, Van, Nhung, Phuong, Phuong and Lan.

Salentu: lu sule, lu mare, lu ientu....vafammokk'

translation for our foreign readers: "Salentwind: the sun, the sea, the wind....bless the heart and soul of that talented tour operator/local politician/folk singer who came up with this poetic little phrase"

29 March 2007

My Sputnik Sweetheart

Ok, decided it's useless to be shy about it, and that it's time to introduce you to my travelling companion, Liam.
Obviously, travelling companion is somewhat limitative to describe a veeeeeeery special person...but there you go.
Stole the title from a book by Haruki Murakami, which kept me entertained during the 22 hours train journey from Hanoi to Nha Trang - but I'll get to that when it's the right time.

What now?

Ok, so the situation is the following. I left my work in the UK under pretences that it would be a one year sabbatical. The year expired last August, and I’m not too confident that they’re so desperate to want me back.
More than that, I think my life has now taken a completely different path, where, for as much as it could always be an option, going back now would simply not make any sense.

I see my professional and personal experience so far as a creative and positive lying of bricks, where all I have learned and seen will never be taken away from me.

Now the one thing that I can think of that would make sense for me to do, and that I am quite excited about, is to do a masters degree in something called “Intercultural Communications” in Cambridge. Yet another obsessions of mine, which I will not bore you with.
But that’s what I’m going to do.

I do, however, take this opportunity to ask for your (kind) advice on how to apply for funding for masters courses that are totally extortionate? What do to? Where to go? Etc etcet et.
For the best piece of advice, the price will be a signed picture of me scoffing that cheese sandwich I’ve been fantasising on all day today.

Before Europe, however, I will take the advantage of the time off to do all that I didn’t do during my time in Vietnam, and that is to travel. I am not doing this by myself, of course…. But I’m too shy to share this piece of information. South Vietnam, Cambodia and Bangkok are our next destinations. If I’m disciplined enough, you’ll have it all here.

I will keep you posted with all that happens, and this time I’m going to keep the promise!

So long, cheerio.

All my love to...

Phuong - my close colleague and friend - she flew away to France last September to do a postgraduate course

Le Maketing - Van, Chi, Toan, Phuong, Phuong and Violaine.

Welfare staff at Hoa Sua

Huyen "la naive"

Chi Linh - a very special person

and, and, and....Chung, Nga, Nhung, Hung, Nguyen, and all at VSO; all the many people and all very very special to me in so many different ways. Thank you for making this year such a special year, and for giving me your time and your laughter. I will miss you all!

Getting soft again, better go now!

What I have left behind

thought and written on 18th February

I’m writing this from a hotel room two weeks after the end of my placement, overdue post that I’ve been rehearsing in my head for a long long time. For as much as it has come later than I wanted, I am glad I waited. Now that I’m in Phnom Penh, and the two weeks travelling that I’ve done so far, have given me the chance to think through my year in Hanoi, at Hoa Sua and as a VSO volunteer.

The last month or so in Hanoi were not easy. Throughout the year I, like other people I’ve met in Vietnam, went through very intense highs and lows, more so than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. And yet, if that can make sense, these feelings kind of got together during my last few weeks in Hanoi. I was ecstatically happy for all that was to come with the end of my placement with VSO – the adrenaline rush that novelty and the unknown bring, as well, of course, the prospect of seeing my family, relatives and friends (and stuffing myself with cheese).

At the same time, I was struck by an unspeakable sadness to leave the place that has undoubtedly become my second home. For a little more spice, sprinkle that sense of duty that will not allow you to leave without thinking that a year is certainly not enough, and if you could only do an extra six months…But I knew that if I did decided to extend, that would probably have been the beginning of an endless request for extensions, and sometimes, when a chapter has to close, it has to close. I think I’m beginning to be clever at that.

So – conclusions on the experience? It was a spectacular year – without a doubt. It’s been the year that has given me the chance to learn so much about myself. I am working at the accepting part now. It’s also been the year in which I understood the real meaning of humbleness, determination, acceptance in situations where you have very little control over situations. In other words, I think Vietnam has taught me how to let go, with a smile.

I have left so many friends back in Hoa Sua – and to all of them I am grateful for giving me such a fabulous and rewarding time. Most of all, though, I have left my little sisters, Hieu and Nhung, and that hurts more than I ever imagined.

Hieu and Nhung are the girls with whom I’ve shared my days throughout the last 6 months. It’s certainly not been easy on them: not only did they have to put up with my crazy ideas on how we could improve communications, but most importantly, they had to learn what communications is, and does, and means, introduce it as a whole new concept to the entirety of Hoa Sua, and develop tools that would facilitate the whole process, whilst integrating in a new environment, and and and.. Pant pant…and they’re doing in it. They’re doing it. All by themselves.

I have to laugh now to how I kept panicking throughout my time in Hoa Sua, wondering what would be the impact of my presence there. And there’s a story that I like to tell:
One day, towards the end of one of our regular meetings I asked them: “What would you like me to focus on during these last few weeks?”
They looked at each other, exchanged a few words in Vietnamese, giggled and said: “We’d like you to teach us how to be positive like you”.


We’ve come long way, through happiness, disappointment, hilarity, anger, and more, and we’ve taught each other and learned from each other – I am totally confident now that I don’t need to be here for them, because they will know how to develop what we started together.

What they don’t realise? Is that it’s them who’ve taught me the secret of being positive!

Allow me another anecdote to show something else that fills me with pride.
On my last day, as I was saying my goodbyes in my usual clumsy manner, one of the girls said to me: Patty, would it be ok if we keep asking for your help even when you’re home?
To which I replied: Of course, you can count on me, always.
And after a brief pause:
“Yes, thank you. But Patty, we want to be able to do this independently”.

At which point I had to kiss them goodbye and run away.

Here they are! Hieu on the left and Nhung on the right..


You may have realised that I've not posted in a long time. I hope you didn't think that that was the end of my VSO experience, and that I was going to leave without saying goodbye?!?!

NO. Just went travelling and didn't always have internet access or inspiration.

Here follows (in the magic blogging world - upwards) an attempt to share the last two months.

Oooh, I also couldn't wait to post this picture - check out Mr Bush and Mr Putin loving their Ao Dais!!

16 January 2007

this is what I'm soon going back to

...and I can't wait!
missing all of you - including those I had no pics of!

04 January 2007

new year, new audience in the neuron-free zone

Liam drinking one of the two units of alcohol a day he limits himself to