Breakfast with the locals…

Breakfast with the locals (and without the lady) – great moments.

Everybody around knows me by now. And when I am on my own everyone tries to look after me, help and support me. When I am with My they expect her to care for me and don’t do anything for me :)

Here is today’s breakfast spot:

 

Their speciality: pork offals :) Here the missus is preparing my plate.

My neighbours:

And the first part of my breakfast:

part of stomach, stuffed guts, black pudding, liver…a variation of greens…a mixture of salt, black pepper and freshly squeezed lime for dipping the goodies…

And a closer shot. Especially the black pudding and the stuffed guts are gourmet highlights…

My immediate neighbour offered me his rakia bottle – and thinking that it would be rather early for that stuff I declined. But he showed me with gestures that I should add some rice brandy to my dipping sauce :) Which I gratefully did :)

 

As a “logical sequence” the chef provided me with a bowl of steamingly hot rice soup to eat after the offals. I pepped it up with some ground chilies and peanuts – and it concluded the “cycle” in a very pleasant way.

I went home stuffed and content. It was a voluptuous breakfast. At 55,000 Dong not for free (2.25€) – but worth every cent of it…

Feeling wanted

It is wonderful to share your bed with someone who wants to be close to you even when they sleep. Especially when they weigh only 42kg and the arm or leg they wrap around you in their sleep does not bother you at all :)

I have always been the opposite – unless I am drunk :) I always turn my back to my partner when I sleep. The main reason for this is that I need an awful lot of air to breath. Another reason is that I do not want to disturb her sleep…

So, I am a happy and lucky fella these days :)

Vietnamese language

Vietnamese – the one language that sticks out in this part of Asia. You recognise it immediately when you hear it. Its sound pattern is not exactly like the singsong of Thai or Laotian.

It sounds more like drama. Ups and downs in tone, long and short. A roller-coaster ride of the tongue. And strange vowels that you wonder how they are being produced. Challenging :)

Once you start to approach the language systematically you notice immediately that also the grammar is completely different from our Western tongues (and from other Sino-languages). In principal much simpler – but different.

Like there is no conjugation of verbs. Also no declination of nouns. Specific descriptions always put the general first and the particular second. Example: meat = meat pork, meat beef, meat chicken…; station= station bus; station train…and so on…

The biggest hurdle, however, is really the pronunciation and in particular the vowels.

One example: the letter “O”.

“O”  – is pronounced like “aw” in awful

Ô” – is pronounced like “o” in hotel

Ơ” – is pronounced a little like the Bulgarian “Ъ” (but without “air”). There is no real equivalent in English.

That’s for starters. As Vietnamese is a tonal language there are 6 different tones for every vowel, from low-falling to high-rising, Which provides us with 18 different “shades of O” alone. And, of course, 18 different words containing the letter. The same applies to the other vowels – giving as a huge playground :)

Pronouncing even the seemingly simplest things proofs a challenge.

Let’s take the national dish: Phở bò (beef noodle soup)

The “ô” would be pronounced like the Bulgarian “Ъ” – if it would not be “ổ” (which denominates a mid-falling tone in Hanoi – a different one in Saigon, of course).

So the final pronunciation of “Phở” (soup) lies in between “Фъ” and “faw”. After twisting your mouth to produce this sound follows an immediate reshuffle to attach “bò”(beef)  (which sounds like “baw” but with a falling tone).

That’s the simple part. From here you move on to diphthongs and triphthongs :P

Did I make you interested? Will you enrol in a Vietnamese class. I guarantee you, you won’t be bored :)

 

 

 

 

 

Hanoi by bus

Yesterday I decided to go to the centre of Hanoi by bus. The first time to use public transport.

According to Google maps there was a bus stop not so far away from my apartment. There are no bus maps, so preparation is a bit cumbersome. I did find out that one of the three buses passing our neighbourhood would go close to the Hoan Kiem Lake in the centre. So, we gave it a try.

Our bus came after maybe 30 minutes. The ticket information I had from the internet was not so up to date. The price had gone up to 7,000Dong from 3,000 some indefinite time ago.

One thing that surprised me (also later when we took some other bus) was that immediately after entering the bus some young lad or girl would get up and offer me their seat!  I have never come across that in Europe! It made me feel a bit weird, however, and I asked myself: “do you really look so old and fragile?”.

So, I learned quickly that one should avail of such offers of respect. I refused the seat – and had to suffer immediately. Standing in a bus in Hanoi means you should hold on to all available handles etc. with both hands – all the time. It appears that the most important part of these buses are the breaks. And they may be used at all moments and will send you flying about if you are not straddled in properly! The next time someone offered e a seat I accepted it gracefully :)

We had a nice walk round the lake in the middle of the old quarter and tourist zone.

My got the bus wrong for our return trip – and we ended up near her apartment instead. That was an unexpected but very welcome diversion – as it was close to my favourite duck restaurant and we had some unplanned dinner :)

 

 

 

Another Vietnamese breakfast staple: “Pho”

“Pho” (pronounced like “faw”) is THE Vietnamese noodle soup. The two main varieties are “pho bo” (beef soup) and “pho ga” (chicken).

Apart from that there are all other kinds of noodle soup variations, usually under the family name “bun”. About bun some other day :)

As I have not had “real” pho since last December it was high time to go out and have some for breakfast this morning. Somehow you don’t make pho at home. It is a dish you eat at one of the omnipresent street stalls in Hanoi.

At 7 am we were still in time for a pho. The closest place for pho is around the corner and they offer chicken pho.Two years ago they had a very good one. So, it was my first choice.

That’s part of the restaurant. Notice the chairs :) They are not higher than 20cm – and the size of a small buttock…

The pho itself was a bit disappointing. The quality has gone down. The chicken meat was not the most tender and they economised on the rice noodles.

A bowl of Pho is nowadays between 25,000 and 35,000 Dong (1.05€-1.45€). That is more expensive than a comparable soup in Thailand.

At least it was good “people watching” while we were eating our soup.

Next time we will go somewhere else. There are plenty of other noodle soup “restaurants” to try.

Walking the area at 7 AM is always a joy – and as many people in our little lane know me from the past (such huge beasts like me stick out here) and new ones join them we get stopped for a chat every few yards. And as they are always laughing and looking at me (including My) I sometimes have the suspicion that they make jokes about me :) I hope that Buddha will shield them once I speak the language!

 

 

 

Vietnamese breakfast variations…

Another popular breakfast (especially in the countryside) is “bun oc”: snail soup.

As we had bought some snails we decided to use half of them for this treat.

For the soup you make a broth with some pork bones.

The snails are steamed and taken out of their little houses one by one.

An important ingredient is the “bun”, the rice noodles. You can find them fresh in many places.

The final soup looks like this:

In our case the soup is with fried tofu, tomatoes and various green stuff…a great breakfast that leaves a very satisfied body feeling behind  – and that keeps you going for a long time…

 

Vietnamese households…better equipped than ours?

Life and habits are different in Europe and Asia, not to talk about the differences from country to country.

One interesting feature I find in “richer” Vietnamese kitchens, where they have built in furniture, is that the wall cupboard above the sink has no bottom! The shelves in them are not boards but metal grates. Why is that?

Very simple: in Vietnam there are no tea towels and after cleaning the dishes people put them back in the wall cupboards – still wet. Here they dry by themselves and drip onto the sink while doing so…..

Another significant difference are toilets. In Asia every toilet has a shower hose fixed next to it. To clean yourself and the toilet properly – if necessary. A very cultivated feature. I have installed that years ago in my Bansko bathroom.

The Japanese are, of course, the world leaders in toilet culture :) In comparison we look like primitive Barbarians….

Here in my up-market apartment in Hanoi I have a Japanese “Toto” toilet. Toto is the number one company in the world when it comes to toilets. They are designed in a way that you will never have to clean them manually – regardless of your business…

I realise that not many people will talk about “toilets” – but for me they are an essential part of everyday life. And since I am trying to enjoy my life and arrange my environment in the way that pleases me most – I also have a close look at toilets :)

And  it appears that Asian people also do that – much more then Western folks :)

The holiday is over – but not the good times…

I had a wonderful little holiday on Koh Lanta. Relaxed, mainly good weather and after some searching even the right kind of Thai food.

All in all excellent value for money as you can find it inn not too many places nowadays.

Hanoi is still very hot and humid. We are expecting a tropical storm, so the situation will become a bit “cooler” soon.

European delusions…

As an afterthought to my previous post about the morbid charm of Asia:

In the West we have banned rotting/decay – the finality of everything material – from our lives. We worship the new, young and perfect. And we lose out on life through that!

In Asia they respect “age”, the experience and knowledge that comes with it. So, when you get older your body has deteriorated – but you are respected and an influential part of society. In the West being old means being in the way of younger people :) You bother them. So, “old” people go through great pains to be fit to stay part of the “young and respected”…

No sign of decay around us! Even the food we throw away shows no sign of rotting! Because we treat it with chemicals and store it in such a way as to keep its shape forever…

Here in Asia, in the densely populated areas, you smell decay everywhere. The air is full with the “scent” of decaying mango peels and other fruit and vegetable remains, depending on the season…it’s a morbid smell, yes – but also comparable to the morbid smell of a 1969 Chateau Leoville Las Cases from Bordeaux  (of which I had the great luck to acquire 5 cases at a wine auction in Zurich in 1991) – not to talk about the colour of the wine reminding you of the blood of an only slightly menstruating middle-aged woman…

The “queen of decay” in my every day Hanoi life is the wonderful Asian white lilly that I have in my apartment at all times and whose seed pots after a few days emanate that incomparable, attractive smell that arouses even the nearly dead!

Come and go…live with your senses “wide open” to new things – and if you are lucky enough to have the little extra brain it requires, learn who you are and what makes you happy :) Of course, in the end it does not matter if you ever find out – the only difference will be in the degree of enjoyment of your own life!

 

 

The morbid charm of Asia…

No other place on this planet reminds me more about the transience of life than this part of Asia!

Decay is everywhere. New buildings start rotting the moment they are finished. All is side by side. An endless and visible circle of coming and going.

This environment is good for you. It helps you accept the realities of life and to make the best out of them. Carpe diem! Live – and get joy out of it…

When we build in Europe we try to do so for eternity – and to maintain some status quo in our lives which most frequently is not much more than a hollow shell…we are held hostage by our status quo :)

Here I feel relaxed. An unnoticeable grain of sand on the endless beach…