Is it really already over?

Back in my “everyday” environment in Hanoi. A different world from Japan.

Saying good-bye was made easier by a last ramen noodle soup at the Haneda airport:

The flight was excellent (5 hours and something) – considering that we did not fly with Malaysia Airlines…but renowned Vietnam Airlines :)

What I was looking forward to were the higher temperatures in Ha Noi. Japan was quite “fresh” and I was wearing socks all the time.

To my unpleasant surprise it has become quite cold here as well and the next task today will be to “upgrade” from the summer “blanket” to something that keeps us warm during the night. Hopefully it is only a short aberration.

The first task this morning was shopping for today’s food at the market before 7am – as long as there was still a wide choice of stuff.

And a little “banh cuon” for breakfast – bought in front of the house on the street )

The next few days will be chilling and “digesting” the last 18 days in Japan. And getting used to Vietnamese cuisine again after the all so different Japanese fare. I suppose, I will master this challenge…oh, and getting a new supply of Havana Club is also high on the agenda.

Travelling in General

Over the years, as you grow in experience and your situation in life progresses the reasons for travelling change. Also the destinations. And the way of travelling.

When I think back many years, holiday travelling started with friends and tents. The cheapest way of transportation, the cheapest tin food and alcohol and near a beach. Time was not yet an issue. Money was.

Then, when I started my first business at 23 and had a lot of work and had no time for a holiday for 5 years. I did travel, yes. But on business. Every two weeks to Zurich for one night to meet clients, trips to Chicago to meet business associates from the CBOE to enhance networks an ties – but it was always quick, quick, quick since my office in Germany always held a huge work load for me that could not be delegated.

My holiday trips started when I changed my life, got rid of my three companies and became a lowly stockbroker at Merrill Lynch’s. The first time in my working life that I had a private life. That I could leave the office and NOT think of work any more. Of course, during the time I was at my desk there was no time for breaks and lunch and such nonsense.

It all fell into place when I returned from New York and worked in Frankfurt. As a “privileged” member of the Merrill Lynch family I had three weeks holiday a year (not just two as my colleagues in NY).

During the coming years I did not get to know a lot of the world as my dream destination was France. The Provence and Cote d’Azur to be precise. And that’s where we went several times a year. My girl-friend and later wife and I. We always rented a holiday apartment and spent our time at the beach and in the kitchen. Or fishing in a river. Me. With a rod and a couple of bottles of rosé. In the wilderness. Wonderful beyond description.

Cooking, drinking, nature/wilderness were my balance to the somewhat stressful (what a modern word – I never considered my work “stressful” – I just had to be able and willing all then time) broker life. And that’s what my holidays looked like in those days.

When I made the “ranks” and Merrill Lynch decided in 1984 that I was the right man to market our, back then ambitious, enterprise to Europe I accepted the call and relocated to the capital of the Dark British Empire.

My holiday habits also changed somewhat. Not the destination – it was still France – but the apartment rental, the fishing and the cooking stopped. Fancy hotels and even fancier restaurants were the norm then. But for a few days only – not for long holidays. No time for that as a “company politician”.

I did not like my job much because, for the first time in my life, I had a boss. He (in fact a “she”) was in New York in charge of International Marketing and despite that her husband was an actual brain surgeon we got along rather well. It was not only that, really. It was more that I hated to be a politician. Because that’s what everyone in the upper management of an international corporation is and has to be. I have always been the “rough” one. Saying what I think and doing what I say! My word is my bond…and so on. Dinosaur stuff! I abhorred this “sliming ” here and “kicking” there business of the corporate world.

So, eventually I took my hat. Merrill offered me as a farewell to be the manager of any of our International offices, my choice. Idiots. I would have been their slave then. No, I went back into the field and became an anonymous broker again (as we say in German: Schütze 13, hinter Strauch 14). I chose Stuttgart in Germany, where a year before I had opened a new office for Merrill Lynch. A brilliant, marvellous decision – like all the others I have made since then I never regretted for a second to have given up my corporate career. But, of course, before handing in my resignation I had already established “a hobby” with a friend and colleague, a Wall Street guru from NY and we had been making money hand over fist

The best years of my life! In Stuttgart. Not the most popular or well known place in Germany. But a marvel. I love the people there! Always grumpy. Never contempt – unless they get the very best there is – and at a very good price. My kind of people! And a higher density of first class restaurants there than in any other part of Germany and the other countries (apart from some places in France).

Now that I was a “fresh father” and money was not an issue and my Bordeaux collection flourished only time was a restraint for travelling. That’s when I got my pilot license. To make the max out of my limited time. Fly to the Cote d’Azur for a weekend – or wherever else in Europe you wanted to go. Another change in travel habits.

As my job was very people intense my dream holiday still was the wilderness – way from the people. This is what we all want, am I right? A holiday that is different from our everyday life. I had to deal with loads of people – so I wanted peace – the wilderness. My personal dream back then (1986-1987) was to go to Canada with some friends, hire a plane, take tents guns and fishing rods and fly into the wilderness along the rivers and lakes!

It never materialised. And you know why? Because my friends either had the money to do it but no time – or they had the time but not the money.

Something that you will find a basic law of life: People who have time don’t have money or vice versa. I managed to break these rules – by pulling out of the race. So, now, I have neither time nor money…

Goodness, what started here as a short “description” of the changes of travelling in the course of one’s life is turning into an essay that no one will read. I will go to a shop near our hotel now to buy more “Kirin Beer – Brewed for good Times” and my My will hopefully continue to sleep without waking up. When I am back I will tell you why YOU should structure your holidays differently to get the max out of them!!! Or so.

The Great Wall

Whenever I saw pictures of the Great Wall they were special to me. Just the thought how it winds thousands of kilometres through wilderness. This non-plus-ultra display of power. The biggest construction project ever. The only humanly built thing visible from orbit, so they say.

When you stand on that massive wall and are not distracted by the noise of tourists you can let the atmosphere sink in and can imagine what it may have been like 700/800 years ago.The first parts of the Great Wall were built 200 before Christ, or so. It got it’s biggest boost during the Ming dynasty – when it was expanded to stretch more than 8,000 km!

They say it took 60 million people to build it – of which about 30 million died. 60 million! OK, not at one time, but still! Can you imagine the logistic problems? Where to get the food, where to house the people…where to source the materials needed…? That IS “awesome”. So, don’t let me read about all your “awesome” burgers, books and restaurants. One of the most inflated words nowadays.

I spent only half a day on the Great Wall – and about 1-1/2 hours on a tower at a more remote spot with less tourists just taking in the surroundings and “reconstructing” history in my mind. So far the absolute highlight of my trip – and I cannot imagine how this could be topped!

This (the next) morning I can see the sky and the sun is shining!  Wonderful! The weather forecast was right. Yesterday at the Great Wall there was no sun but the wind had dispersed the smog – and one could even see Beijing in the distance (80km away). The local people there said this happens only a few times a year. Lucky me!

Here is “mist”erious Beijing:

“Amazing” (another such inflated word) what super-zoom my little Lumix camera has.

Here a few “autumn” pictures of the wall:

Now I am off to explore Beijing in sunshine!…

Preparations for the trip to Asia

Recently the days in Munich are turning increasingly grey. There is some fog now every morning. The leaves are turning – but slowly as it is quite wet.

This, however, does not make me feel sentimental but makes me feel good. Because next week it’s time for new encounters and adventures.

The last week or so I spent most of my time reading about China. To prepare myself for this year’s first stop on my annual Asia tour.

When we look at some foreign countries we usually believe that we know “a lot” about them. From reading and TV (some of us maybe from school) we know something about the country, its history,development, paysages, cities, cultural monuments etc and from the media we learn about its current events.

But when we are actually there and start to really interact with those people, many of us are torn between enthusiasm and rejection. Because we realise that while these people may look like us or be dressed like us their culture is different. And in that different culture there are other rules for the structure of your existence, indeed people live according to a completely different system of values.

I am interested in finding out the details. What’s the position of an individual in the context of society? How are men and women interacting? What’s their education like and what importance does it have? Which hierarchies exist? How do people behave in public and in private…etc…

And that’s exactly what makes travelling so fascinating for me. I love people, and I want to know what makes them tick.

Of course, 7 day in Beijing opens only a small window in the best case. But you have to start somewhere.

Time to dust this blog!

I have not posted anything here since I came back from Asia last time. The original idea was to write about life in Bansko – not in Asia. Somehow something went wrong.

Next week I will be packing my bags again and “escape” till December. The only thing that is fixed yet is 7 days in Peking at the beginning. After that I will fly to Hanoi and we will see how things proceed. The rough plan is to travel for one month and to spend one month in Hanoi. How this can be arranged exactly depends on some embassies in Hanoi and their willingness to issue visas.

In the meantime I am doing my research on Beijing :)

 

 

Last night in Thailand / Asia!

All good things come to an end.

Time to go home to the countries of pork eaters. It will be heavy winter food there, oh my god! How shall I survive? What shall I eat?

The last dinner in Asia for a long time tonight – in Hua Hin at the night market!

Fried fish with morning glory and green pepper. Mhmmm…

 

Prawns in tamarind sauce and cashew nuts. Not hot – but the tamarind gives a sugarless sweetness that even I like very much…

Simple squid in a Thai curry.

These three dishes plus two Chang beers nearly ruined me. I paid 480 Baht – about 12€…:P

I will miss you so much, my beloved Thai food. I will even cry into my cushion for Vietnamese food.

Talking about Vietnamese food: look at these monster lobsters. I have never seen such giants anywhere. You should know that it takes them about 40 years(!) to reach such sizes.

There are no such animals left in Thailand. Nor Europe nor along the US shores! I talked to the restaurant owners and it turned out that they import them from Vietnam! There they still have because so far the demand for lobster was not so big. Well, another two to three years and they will also be history in Vietnam. Sad – but inevitable :( They sell them for 1400 Baht per kg ( less than 35€) I did not eat any – out of  sheer respect for their age and because I do not want to support the mindless exploiting of the oceans without thinking of tomorrow.

But then, I may be a lunatic. Maybe the permanent intoxication of the seas by the Fukushima reactors will destroy/alter the life in them anyway within the next few years?! Better eat these lobsters now as long as they still exist ;) !

I have nearly finished the last bottle of Sang Som and coke. Now I will go for the last night swim in the “closed” pool and then retire. Tomorrow is another, the last, day…

 

 

 

 

Thai Breakfast

Well, not entirely, but an early breakfast at 7.30 am.

The view from my breakfast table:

Rice soup with pork

Followed be a little curry

…and some fish for good measure

 

…after breakfast “beech time”

The water being very pleasant and no waves this morning. Everything still fairly quiet at 8.30 am. – at 10 am I buggered off. It gets more busy then and also noisy from the motorboats and jet skis. Time to move to the pool for a while.

I guess I will skip lunch (in exchange for an additional fish dish tonight ;) ) and will have a nap instead…

 

No more experiments!

My excursion to the fishing village last night was disappointing. The place was dead. Only a few big restaurants (I am sure they are packed on weekends with the Thai from Bangkok) were open. A look at the menu sobered me up. A very small choice of dishes and more than bold prices!

In the end I stopped at the last restaurant in the direction of my hotel and out of desperation I had some squid with garlic.

It was supposed to be fried squid – this one is obviously deep fried and consists only of tentacles. A few carrot and cabbage strips are on the side as well as the typical Thai tourist-sauce…

Today it is back to the Hua Hin Night Market – and until I leave.

Out of desperation I stopped at a food stall on the way home and had a little soup. At least that left a pleasant sensation in my stomach.

Fish? Yes!

When I came home from Hua Hin last night the road around the king’s summer residence was beautifully illuminated…

…but just as I was passing there the pain in the knee set in. Stronger than ever. Sh…! Obviously the massage was not the best possible thing for my leg! Fortunately I have enough medication for an ox and it even still works. Otherwise I would not have slept at all.

It was a nightmare to drag myself up and down a few steps like a limping snail to breakfast this morning. Therefore I sat there for a long time :P Today they even had a pork soup with glass noodles. Reminded me of Hanoi :P Different spices here, however. Celery stalks e.g…

I also spent more time at the pool because it was just too much to go back and forth. I only left once the pain become unbearable again and I had to go back to my room for the pills.

After recovering somewhat I went for a little excursion by car along the sea. Here is the Cha-Am fishing village, or rather the port with its hundreds of boats:

Mhmmm…lobster and crab traps :)

This is where all the good stuff comes from. So I have decided a change in plan!

I will skip the Hua Hin Night Market tonight – also because I am afraid of having to walk far. Instead I will go to the centre of the Cha-Am fishing village and indulge in some seafood there. I am sure that the preparation of the food will be very simple there – unlike at my “Moo” – but, hey, I can survive that – since I can park the car right next to the restaurant, I guess.

Hua Hin Food!

The reason why I flew to Thailand for the last few days of my stay in Asia is of course the food. And the reason why I chose specifically the Hua Hin area, where I know every bush and every stone by now, is the abundance of seafood there.

So, yesterday I suffered during the day at the pool and a little at the sea. I am in fact not in Hua Hin directly but in Cha-Am, about 20km before Hua Hin. I wanted something new, a change. And I stumbled across this hotel at the Cha-Am beach by accident. It has good ratings on Tripadvisor (probably that should have kept me away :) ) – and I had a back and forth email communication with the manager about the room price  which ended in me getting a good rate :)

To Hua Hin it’s about 15 minutes by car. I decided to go earlier as I wanted to check out a few things at a Mall in Hua Hin. There, of course, I could not get what I wanted at the price I was willing to pay but it did not make sense to return. Sadly, there was no parking near the night-market – despite that the market was still “non-existent”. I parked far away and thought: slowly I will crawl through the side streets to the market area – and maybe I will have a beer there before the market starts.

It was indeed a slow crawl and when I reached the far end of the market street I came across that section with all they tailors, jewellery shops and massage places. But no beer bars. I passed an old fashioned massage place with the elderly, skinny master sitting outside on a bench and a younger edition of him doing a foot massage inside. The man saw me limping along and offered me to sit next to him for a while. In fact, I had already slowed down when I saw him, because I know a professional when I see one :)

After a short “chat” I asked him for a foot massage. One hour. I think he did not grab what the exact problem with my knee was – but his massage removed the constant pain in the knee and basically whole leg as the pain spreads up to my thighs and down to my feet.

So, I limped happily in the direction of the night market which by now had started to operate.

What was the first thing I bought? Well, I saw a new ice parlour and as they had durian ice, I could not resist buying a cone. Silly me! As I was on the way to dinner I should have taken one scoop only and not two…

Now, this is where the fun starts: the Hua Hin Night Market. Every day. Many stalls with clothes, bric-a-brac and Thai crafts. I have stopped looking at them quite some years ago as I have seen it all and never buy anything.

But passed this lies food heaven! The second half of Dechanuchit road is full with food stalls and restaurants. My turf!

Birds:

Crispy chicken skin:

Delicious seafood soups with your choice of noodles – or rice:

And, of course, seafood…seafood…seafood:

Just look at these “monsters”:

A 2kg-plus lobster:

I used to have a favourite restaurant there with a gorgeous cook. But he left them 5 years ago or so and since then I don’t like the place any more. But 4 years ago or so I have found an alternative: “Moo Seafood” – a completely mobile restaurant. On the side-walk. During the day you would have no idea that it exists.

What I also like is that they display all their veggies that go into the dishes and don’t only brag with the biggest crayfish.

The man in yellow and the one on the right are the team of chefs. The yellow one prepares and chops everything and puts it in little bowls. The other one handles the wok. Look at their excellent mis en place!

As I had had too much durian ice cream I only had a modest dinner.

“Drunken fried fish with chillies” as a starter:

A luke-warm “Spicy Oyster Salad” as a follow up – and, boy, when they say “spicy” they mean it :)

After ordering my second Chang beer and browsing the menu I decided on something “little and light”: a fried soft-shell crab in Thai-curry:

This is MY kind of food! The type that I call: forget about everything else food. Sheer passion. For this stuff I travelled al the way. I just hope my leg will carry me through the next few days!