Saturday, January 23, 2010


Listening to Blue Lines by Massive Attack-makes me realize how much I miss good, decent music. Here, live music does not seem to have it's place yet but I went to a cool yet stiflingly smoky bar (smoking ban a long way off by the look of things!) the other night called Yoko to listen to a fairly cool singer called To Phung. She had a great voice and a funky, unique look. Everywhere you go here there is "music" blaring. I described it to a friend as worse than eurovision music. But each to their own.

Yesterday was my first taste of being a tourist. While I loved the scenery and watching the life here, seeing it through tourists eyes was a tad depressing. The poverty here is pretty hardcore and I don't know if I will ever get used to it. We came back into Saigon at sunset by boat-stroke of luck-we got it for free and was wonderful to watch the many industries on the river and the lines of people waving at us as we went by-just brilliant. At one point along the way, the boat chugged and stopped abruptly. One of the boat staff stripped off to his boxers in front of us, slipped into the filthy water and went right under. He surfaced and threw a basket which had tangled on the motor. He did this with such ease, it was really impressive! And off we went.

All along the river we encountered many many shacks that people call home and I'm sure some of the kids I work with come from. When I tried to engage in conversation with an American backpacker about this, I was met with a one word answer. It really got under my skin. If travelling around the world can't inspire you to take in the rough with the smooth, then what's the point? I wanted to talk to them about it and express how sad it was to see how people live but I knew it wasn't worth it. So, introspective I went. I think it's a big reason why I have never felt compelled to travel because it seems to dim a lot of people's view of culture-almost like they block it out. Baffling stuff.

The Mekon Delta is really beautiful and one of the highlights was rowing down the river in the jungle in an old wooden boat. Again we met the people there all wanting money from us, the rich westerners. But aside from that, it was really fantastic. We sampled the local industries from honey, coconut and fruit and again the level of innovative streaks these people have is great. I lazed and slept on a hammock for a while and then went on a short bike ride (bicycle). That was cool, cycling along the narrow road soaking in the roasting sun and catching a glimpse of the sleepy locals as I whizzed by.

Life here has it's ups and downs. Today it is in the high 30's. I hear the endless construction noises, the relentless barking dog next door, a cock crowing and even sometimes I hear people singing in an eerily similar sean nos way! I have moments when I wonder what I'm doing here but these moments come and go. Fear is not something I see in people here. At home, people worry all the time, fret about the smallest of things. Here, they live from hand to mouth with a smile. I hope to take a leaf out of all their books.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

the only gay in the village

Most people will know that this phrase comes from Little Britain- the comedy sketch show. It depicts an overtly gay welsh man who announces and proclaims his pride of being the only gay man in the village. This is not unlike my life here now as I continue to immerse myself in this boiling pot of cultural difference. I am followed with stares everywhere I go and there is a real sense of thrill in that! In that sense, I am the only gay in the village!

I have never had a fortnight like this one just passed. Stepping off the plane this time 2 weeks ago into the balmy Saigon evening and into this as yet unknown territory. My first thoughts were that things felt orderly, official yet tinged with something askew, chaotic. Waiting for my landing visa as the young, stern official struggled with the microphone, which fizzled and feed-backed. People quietly chuckled at this. The heat now really kicked in and sweat began to pour rapidly, sticking my clothes to my skin. There was no orderly queue, no instructions-just a random group of people all awaiting the green light.

Since then it has been a non stop marathon of processing, adjusting, absorbing. Without sounding too cliched or new agey-it feels like I am being reborn! Everything I have ever known has been discarded and washed away replaced by this drive to learn and breathe the life in here. Whenever I step out onto the hustle and bustle of the streets, I take in the newness of it. I walk around, smile at people, pinch a baby's face and I never cease to be amazed by the lines of people sitting, selling anything from shoes to cigarettes to fruit. All in very close proximity to the next trader. There is a real sense of community here, people look out for each other because they have to.

Last night I went to the backpackers district, which was full of westerners all huddled around smugly and professing to loving the culture here. I am pretty certain that a lot of people who choose to live amongst themselves have little perspective on the culture although I could be wrong.

My work at CNCF

I find it quite hard to convey in words what I have experienced in this short time in the job. The Chistina Noble Children's Foundation has the most exceptionally dedicated team of people, which keeps the wheels in constant motion. The children are beacons of hope and are to me what my work here is all about. My job as Art and Music Coordinator is a very privileged position. I get to work first hand with the kids, forging bonds with them and seeing where their many creative talents lie. These kids work harder than your average Joe soap at home. They work long hours making as much money as they can to help their families. What CNCF does is to provide them with stability in terms of nourishment, a home, love and in my project the chance to shine creatively. Meeting them yesterday for the first time, I was blown away by each and every one of them. I was greeted by them with huge smiles, all full of fun and enthusiasm. Knowing their profiles and their very impoverished backgrounds, it was amazing to meet them and see how confident they all seem. I can only put this down to the work of the foundation from the ground up they have made this possible.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Mui Ne

We set off on our journey early. This place never sleeps and at 6.30 people are buzzing around as normal-time never playing it's part. It feels like the people here are built to work constantly yet they always find time to smile and just get on with it.

The train was from the 70's yet comfortable and oh bliss of blisses had aircon. I am struggling to sleep without it at the mo, so any time it's there I lap it up! Ciarna has a magnetic field around her when it comes to the people. The fact that she has some vietnamese is a bonus. We saunter up to the dining carriage, where you can smoke (hard to get used to people puffing away on a train) drink coffee and have the craic with the staff. My red hair and pale skin is always a bit of a mystery to them and often I would just be spacing out and the next thing I look around and I have about 5 pairs of eyes looking my way! It's a weird one. They all ask do I have a husband, which is funny too. Last night on our way back, I encountered a not so nice element to that and one of the staff, a sleazy oul fella who was drunk, wanted some special time with me. Exit stage right. But I think even those kind of encounters are rare.

The train journey took about 5 hours to Mui Ne but felt shorter. The scenery along the way was more interesting than pretty-just the small ramshacked houses, the buddhist graves (i had to get the swastica looking emblem explained to me-apparently it's in the opposite direction and is buddhist symbol for life), the people working the land were all fascinating to me. We arrived to literally a throng of taxi guys, some gently touching my arm-was a little intense to say the least. The heat from the sun was also intense but unlike Saigon, the air was clear and no smog. Saigon is the most polluted city I have ever been to. It's sad that the canal river is so polluted that every time I pass it, I feel like retching the stench is that bad. I guess, it's a lack of education but everywhere you go there is rubbish strewn-seems to be no system in place to counteract this. Anyway, it's all par for the course here and taking a leaf out of the people's book-I will just get on with it and keep smiling!

Mui Ne was very chilled-we just soaked it up, ate amazing food, drank for Ireland and hung out-it's the best place to just be in the moment. Feel so relaxed and happy-the first time in a long time. Long may it last.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

eye opener

We sat in this seafood place last night, sampling the various delicacies on offer. I even braved the raw squid and wasabi-delicious!

They began to approach our table at a steady pace. Elderly women, destitute-a boy of about 8 with a disfigured face, disabled- all trying to sell their various bits and pieces. The extent of their desperation was palpable. I struggled to come to terms with their appalling and undignified place in the world. I struggled with my own response to them and as I recoiled in shame-Ciarna rightly pointed out to smile, give them dignity, look at them. By me reacting as if they aren't there is not going to solve anything. Something I think we all can learn. A bit of human spirit and dignity goes an awful long way to these people.

On a lighter note-I know have mentioned before but the mode of transport here has me transfixed, enthralled and terrified all in one go! Everyone has one. They bring families, dogs, furniture, babies-you name it! The trusty mophead! Yesterday we travelled from the city back to the house. Throngs of them lining up-swerving, honking but nobody-not one person showed any sign of impatience or as we have in the west-road rage! A miracle when at one point we had to push our way through on the footpath cos of roadworks and literally I was in the middle of a sea of bikes. Hilarious and brilliant. Love it! All par for the course here and has made it all the more exciting to be in.

Monday, January 4, 2010

day 3 adjusting...

It's 3.20am and I am wide awake. There is an upturned cockroach behind me who stopped wriggling some time ago, hoping this is so anyway. The heat is sticky and uncomfortable and is probably the main factor why I am awake. But here I am. Thousands of miles away from home and family, friends and my life. The love and support I got before I left was overwhelming-helps so much when the ones I care about the most gently edge me closer to this, the start of my Vietnam story. And already, it feels like quite a story. The first night I was here we (Ciarna my gem of a host) went to this little cafe, by cafe I mean small plastic chairs and tables outside this lady's house. She was so welcoming and had a sadness about her that I twigged straight away. As her story unfolded and was being relayed to me-I knew that this was one of many many stories I am likely to hear. At first, she said her husband died and then later she quietly admitted that he ran away with an american woman to the states in 1979 and so he is dead to her. She is 57, looks 40 and very beautuful. There is a profound gentleness to these people-a serenity that I have never encountered before. Many of them have little but live their lives with such dignity and grace it is hard to fathom. It makes me think of home and the recession and how we really have no clue what hardship is. But that's another story. For now, I am ambracing life here with all the bumps and uncertainty along the way.