Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Vietnamese Moment

Scene: I am in the posh Kim Do Hotel in central Saigon. I am sitting in the restaurant with my colleague Thuy. Classical music plays in the background and I can hear the soft trickle of the intricate waterfall at the back of the open-air restaurant.

Thuy sits with a grilled tomato on her plate. A slice of gently melted mozzarella cheese clings onto the softened tomato.

Thuy: What is this?

She pries the cheese off of the tomato and flips it around on her plate

Me: I think it's cheese.
Thuy: Cheese?
Me: Yes, you know, phó mát (the word for cheese in Vietnamese)

She pricks it with her fork

Thuy: It looks like tofu
Me: No, it's definitely cheese, Thuy. It's a grilled tomato.

She pops it into her mouth, and starts to chew. With a blank expression on her face, I can see the cheese poke out of her mouth as she chews it.

Thuy: Well, it kind of tastes like tofu.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Welcome to Saigon

I've arrived safely in Saigon. I'd been back from Malaysia and Indonesia nearly two weeks, and I'm already on another 2 week trip. This time it's a business trip to Saigon (aka Ho Chi Minh City) and the Mekong Delta.

The organisation I started my new job with is organising an awareness campaign in the south, and they've sent me along to help coordinate it.

Saigon is a crazy busy city, not unlike Hanoi. Though there are similarities, there is definitely something different about this city. The traffic is slightly worse and it is much bigger than Hanoi, but there seems to be a lack of street life in comparison. I spent about 25 minutes walking around the centre trying to find a cafe where I could just sit and enjoy a ca phe sua da (iced coffee with milk). I settled for the lifeless Highlands chain where I spent a good 50 minutes chatting to Jeannette and using up all the credit I had just charged to my mobile.

In between meetings I have quite a bit of time to spend exploring the city. I was able to eat at two really good and cheap vegetarian restaurants. Even though the organisation gives me quite a sizable per diem while I'm here, I just can't bring myself to spending a lot. I did get the extra fancy coffee (and most expensive) at the Trung Nguyen cafe, but that still only set me back 45,000 dong (2.50 USD). Also I sent all my newly tailored clothes as well as some old ones to the hotel laundry service, even having them iron them. There's nothing like having crispy-dried clothes when you've been hanging your clothes up to dry for the last 5 months. Plus the shrinkage was definitely needed on some of my pants and shirts. Splurge as I try, I'm just not a natural big spender.

I'll try and post some more of my experience here in Vietnam's largest city, the old capital of South Vietnam.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gratuitous Video Scene #4: Hanoi at Sunset

This is the route between the tailor and my place.
This road separates West Lake from Truc Bach Lake, and connects to the Tay Ho neighbourhood.
You can hear my friend Zed oozing on about how she wants to watch the sunset with her boyfriend.

Romance is a farce
(yes, maybe that is the stage I'm in now)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Food Tourist

I just got back from a trip to Bali and Malaysia. A trip whose main feature was food. Food food food. I saw a program at my aunt's house about a year ago on Penang Island in Malaysia and the place has since been in the back of my head. When I was presented with an opportunity to stop in Malaysia on my way back from Bali (due to awful scheduling by AirAsia's Kuala Lumpur-Hanoi route), I just had to take it. Even though the island was five hours by bus from KL, it was well worth it. I jumped from food stall to food stall and pounced on every opportunity to savour the unique cuisine of Penang: Baba Nonya.

This mixture of Indian, Malay and Chinese has resulted in the perfect balance of spice. I had a plate of Pasembor Rojak which was a mixture of different food items, strangely enough, chopped up and thrown together with shredded cucumber and doused in a sweet and spicy peanut sauce. My vegetarian version had tofu, potato, rice dumpling, some sort of croquet-like object, and a lentil-based cracker laden with peanuts. Together with a glass of freshly made carrot juice, it cost me about $1.50 USD.

The thought of going back to Penang is making me drool. It will definitely be on my travel itinerary again. Other than that, it is back to reality, as I start my new job on Monday.