The quest for spice!

Being with a true Hanoian lady is just like having been with a true “Sofianka” before :)

They are both difficult shoppers! They want to touch and chose every individual potato, grape, fruit, pepper – whatever – they buy on the market! Where I feel ashamed in front of the sales people they become like predators, furies – refusing anything the seller offers them without even looking at it because the are convinced that everyone’s goal is to cheat them…

So, my Vietnamese My wants to buy dried chillies for cooking. But she does not like to buy them in Hanoi because she thinks the people there mix them with low quality additives. But she believes in the local Thai vendors :) Therefore, we went to a local market this morning to find some dried chillies.

On the island they have different locations where they hold a weekly market on different days. Much like in my Bansko area. And depending on how close the markets are to the most densely populated areas the prices are different.

When we checked out the stalls I had my premonitions. This is Muslim county! Sugarland! My was ready to buy a package of 500g at 80 baht (4 leva). I asked the scarfed lady if the chillies were hot (“peth”). She nodded decisively. Me, being a smart cookie myself, strongly My to open the plastic bag and try the chillies before she bought them. We could not communicate this to the vendor, so we simple smiled at the lady and removed the rubber that held the bag tight. And- no big surprise to me- the chillies were boringly mild – and unusable for our type of cooking :)

So, maybe in the end I will have to ask my daughter to bring some hot Thai chillies from Germany when she comes visiting Hanoi in November :)

 

 

Dissident? What else!

I am lucky to have been born into a democracy. Even a shaky one.

Because all my thinking life I have been a dissident. I have never agreed with the mainstream. That started with becoming a youthful activist for the (legally forbidden) Marxist-Leninist Party in Western Germany at the onset of the Vietnam War :)

And it included even my professional career as a stock market investor, where my success was based on being a contrarian.

How could I survive in a totalitarian system? Unless I would have been born as its ruler?

So, considering all the evils that are inherent in any political system (including churches) democracy is the most tolerable form of living together with other people. Churches are bad by definition as they are always totalitarian (with the exception of Buddhism).

But that, of course, is valid for me, not necessarily for the majority of other people :) The masses prefer to be told what to think and what to do. It makes their life so much easier…

 

 

Thailand = “sanuk”

Until I “got stuck” in Vietnam a few years ago, Thailand was my base in Asia. The place to start my trips to various countries.  The resting place in between two trips – and the base to charge my spirits and my taste buds.

Thailand (“The land of the free”) has never been a colony to anyone and the Thai are a unique and special people. “Sanuk” is their basis for living! “Sanuk” is often misleadingly translated as “having fun”! What it really means, however, is getting joy and satisfaction out of everything you are doing! Working, playing, everything! Which means: living consciously and involved in what you are doing.

This is difficult to grasp for Western people who are not used to (what in German we all) “Leichtigkeit des Seins” (the lightness of being) and tend to take everything very seriously. They would consider Thais rather lazy and irresponsible :)

Buddhism fits in naturally here – because it emphasizes the unimportance of your own being.

This attitude is also reflected in the joyful passionate Thai cooking. If I had to name one cuisine as my favourite it would have to be Thai! No other cuisine gives you such a scale of taste emotions that leave you happy and exhausted like good sex…

Sanuk – MY way of life!

Koh Lanta Info

The Koh Lanta Yai archipelago was first inhabited only 500 years ago. By the “sea gypsies”, a tribe that supposedly came from Malaysia. 200 years later came the Muslims from Malaysia. They were the first ones to settle permanently. And so the island is still predominantly Muslim. No wonder as we are South of Southern Myanmar and North of Malaysia, with Muslims on both sides.

This makes for a slightly more colourful street picture. The main difference, however, is in the food. I underestimated the Malayan Muslim influence in the cuisine. They use sugar everywhere! Massively. Today I had a Paenang fish curry for lunch. Paenang curry in other parts of Thailand is a rather hot red curry. Here it is also red – but not hot at all and the main taste is that of sugar!

Yesterday I had “fish fried with chilli” for dinner. The fish came with a sweet chilli and in a sugary sauce…

 

One of the reasons why I came to Thailand for a holiday was to continue my diet – only now with seafood. The high sugar content of every meal here, however, will certainly make me gain weight! So, I am disappointed of the food. Not what I had expected.

The rest of the holiday is good. Now there is no season. So there are very few tourists and nearly all beaches are empty. As are the restaurants.

Only today tourists started arriving at our resort. The last two days there were only three other couples/families. The main season starts end of October, beginning of November. We will be back in Hanoi since long then :)

 

Tonight I will be heading for the local taxi drivers’ favourite hangout for dinner :)

 

Koh Lantra Yai

On Thursday we ventured to “Lanta” as most people call this island in Thailand. It was quite a trip. More than eleven hours from door to door. It takes you nearly an hour to get to the Hanoi airport from downtown by taxi. Then from Hanoi to Don Mueang airport in Bangkok, three hours later to Krabi and then another 2-1/2 hours to the island (including two ferry crossings).

We did not have luck with the weather so far. When we arrived it just had stopped raining and yesterday it was cloudy and very hazy. This morning it looks like it is improving. While I am having my coffee on the beach-front terrace of our resort restaurant the sky looks better (too early still to be blue) and the sea is much smoother.

It should become a nice day.

Yesterday we explored the island from north to south and east to west – and we had lunch and dinner in the two most recommended sea food restaurants of Koh Lanta. And were disappointed two times. Too sweet. They use sugar everywhere here! Very bad for my diet! But that’s a different story.

I have set up an online album with Canon of my pictures . But I have no clue yet how I can share them here. So, I will have to experiment a little before you can see the beauty of this place…bear with me :)

http://s1100.photobucket.com/user/Pirinlodge/library/Koh%20Lanta%20Yai

Market Shopping

Prices at the local markets vary from day to day, sometimes drastically. Supply and demand at its best. This is especially the case for non-farmed products like crab, squid, sea fish.

And, of course, here you ALWAYS haggle, whether you buy two bananas or 10kg of shrimps. :) Sometimes this gets tiresome.

Today we bought 3kg of clams for me (1-1/2kg for lunch, the other half for dinner). 55,000 Dong – about 2.25€ – 0.75€ per kg. That would be a good price :)

Silly me!

I am the biggest moron walking the streets of Hanoi! It looks like since I basically stopped drinking six months ago my brain has become mushy lacking the preserving effect of the alcohol!

Yesterday I went to my Vietnamese bank to arrange things in a way that I can travel Asia and fund everything through my account there. My Vietnamese credit card is in Dong. But I had only USD there. So, I tried to do a conversion by internet banking already a couple of months ago. But for every transaction I need a PIN code, which the bank sends me by text message to my mobile phone. The Vietnamese, mind you.

As it turned out, the Vietnamese phone operator had blocked my number already two months after my leaving the country last December – despite that I still had a 500000 Dong credit balance!

So: phone not working – no text messages – no text messages no PIN – no PIN no internet banking – no internet banking no money in the credit card account…

Of course, to register a new phone number you have to appear at the bank branch in person. :)

So, I had arranged for a post-paid SIM card to avoid that the number will be blocked again. I picked it up upon my arrival. And I had to set up  a payment system to make the monthly payments (to find a victim who will pay for me every month) :)

Now, of course, it turned out that I had to go to the other end of Hanoi to get “roaming” on my SIM card. Otherwise: no text messages outside Vietnam :) That was quite a procedure and I had to leave a deposit of 2,000,000 Dong…

So, yesterday I went to the bank, registered the new phone number for internet banking, exchanged enough USD into VND to keep me going with my credit card in Thailand – and now, time to relax!!!

Alas, when last night I decided to prepare the things I need to take with me on holiday (a bag of chargers for different devices, negligée, perfume, handcuffs, documents and other important matters) it turned out that I had left my bloody Vietnamese credit card in Munich – in my Bulgarian wallet! I missed to transfer it to my Asian wallet! What a moron! All the hassle and all the fuzz for nothing!

In my desperation I went to the bank early this morning (only 20 minutes by taxi) but as I expected they were not able to issue a new card by the end of today :( It will be ready only once I come back from Thailand.

OK, this is not really fatal. I will take a stack of Benjamin Franklins with me instead. But it certainly is most embarrassing! Maybe I better start looking for a personal assistant…

Back in Hanoi

I better start my travel diary before my trip is over again. :)

This year the planning started early. I bought my tickets already in June – and, in fact, am fully “planned” till the end of March 2016.

Last year I did not have a chance to fly with Qatar Airways – as I was travelling via Beijing. So, this time Qatar – because they were the only ones left to serve champagne in economy. It was a big disappointment for me to learn on the flight that they only recently have removed champagne from their beverage list! Poor me! Now I have no airline left that really cares for me :( I shall write a complaint to their management!

It was my first stop at the new Qatar airport. A huge and modern terminal. With top world brand shops. I don’t like it! Before it used to be small and Arabic. Now it is international and meaningless. When before they had a dozen different kinds of dates for sale they now have only the boring standard Al Alwani dates that you can buy in any supermarket in Arabia…Another airport that is without identity…a pity…

Hanoi, on the other hand, embraced me immediately with the out-worldly charm I have gotten used to :)   It started even immediately after arriving, at the visa counter, where I had ample time (about 30 minutes) to watch the 6 uniformed guys doing nothing. When, after handing over 95$ for the visa, I moved to immigration I was de-accelerated even more. There was only one lady checking the passports of all arriving foreigners. And she had a question about one of the people and wandered off, assumingly to see her superior for support. She came back after less than 15 minutes, so, no worries.

On the way into town I passed some of the impressive red billboards on which in yellow letters were some official notices. That made me feel very much at home :)

I am staying in the same apartment as two years ago. I had wanted to try yet another area of Hanoi but the rental deal fell through in the last minute. It is a nice building and a good location in a small street. One of the advantages is that all the people here (in the little shops and also the street vendors) still remember me :) And I remember the whole environment also. So, it really makes you feel at home.

Yesterday I had a stroll around the neighbourhood to see what’s new and to check if all the good stuff is still there…

Now I am all set to enjoy my Hanoi life. Before this really starts, however, we will be going on a two week holiday to Thailand the day after tomorrow. So, tomorrow I will have to pack what I will need.

We will be back on the second of October and I have hired a private teacher for Vietnamese lessons starting on the 5th. Then I also will have to pick up my motorbike.

Today it is raining as a tropical thunderstorm is brewing up. Supposedly tomorrow as well. No problem. Life moves slower here :) And I can utilise the idle time finding, pirating and ripping the latest Asian maps for my Garmin satnav device :)