Blogs from District Two, Ho Chi Minh City, Southeast, Vietnam, Asia - page 4


Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 30th 2020

Thomas Hardy is my favourite novelist and one of my four favourite poets (along with Shakespeare, Philip Larkin and W. B. Yeats). I have read almost everything Hardy ever wrote but have to admit he is very uneven. I would say that at least three of his novels are masterpieces: ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ and ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’. Three others - ‘Jude the Obscure’, ‘The Woodlanders’ and ‘The Return of the Native’ - are very good but flawed. The other eight novels he wrote are, in my view, barely worth reading, because they are either lacking in serious substance or melodramatic and amateurish. Even in his best novels, Hardy is somewhat uneven. There are too many startling and improbable events - a consequence, partly, of his novels being initially serialized ... read more
'Tess' - Hardy's Greatest Novel
'Two on a Tower' - One of Hardy's Forgettable Novels
Sun Dial

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 26th 2020

I have just read two Thomas Hardy short stories, 'The Withered Arm' and 'The Three Strangers', which revolve around an actual or an intended public hanging. They are part of Hardy's first collection of short stories, 'Wessex Tales'. In the Preface, the author's fascination with hangmen is apparent: An apology is perhaps needed for the neglect of contrast which is shown by presenting two consecutive stories of hangmen in such a small collection as the following. But in the neighbourhood of county-towns tales of executions used to form a large proportion of the local traditions; and though never personally acquainted with any chief operator at such scenes, the writer of these pages had as a boy the privilege of being on speaking terms with a man who applied for the office, and who sank into an ... read more

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 25th 2020

This has been on my computer since I wrote it in 2015 after returning to HCMC from England. I thought it might as well be resurrected and published. As is usually the case, I have written it for nobody but myself. My intended audience is ME. It is not a polished piece of writing, just a record of a holiday which went very smoothly. I have lost all the photos I took on that trip, so the following paragraphs are my only memories. I was teaching full-time at Renaissance School, Q7, HCMC in 2015 and had no thoughts of selling my property in Reading. That decision was taken two years later in 2017. Anyway, here is what I wrote: My three weeks in England were great. I based myself in Reading (where I have a locked ... read more

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 25th 2020

When I lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, between 1991 and 1995, there was a teacher in the Elementary School named Graham Mercer. I did not know him well, but we lived on the same campus. Graham was an unassuming man, who lived quietly with his Pakistani wife, Anjum. His overriding passion in life seemed to be photographing the birds and animals of Tanzania. I never realized what a good writer he was until very recently, when I read his short story 'Wild Encounter', which won 1st prize in the 2016 'I Must Be Off!' travel writing competition. I have posted his story here, followed by the judges' comments and then the advice Graham offers to budding writers. Wild Encounter (by Graham Mercer) When I was about five, my Aunty May took me to the theatre ... read more

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 23rd 2020

I discovered this old document by chance in my computer. It was written in note form in 2002 and is an account of my first visit to Sapa in northern Vietnam. I have decided to publish it because it is a time-piece, a reminder of when I was 50 - physically fit, delighted to be working in Vietnam, a free spirit travelling to all sorts of interesting places. Looking back, the great highlight of the trek was the astonishing dream I had in the early hours of April 9th. Sapa Trek: 2002 Monday April 8th - April 10th 3-day, 2-night trek. From Mountain View Hotel in Sapa. Leader: Quen (20, good English, bright, good walker, a little bit cool with me). Started off at 9am, walking with leader and one other person, Chris – American social ... read more
Muong Woman with Earrings
Russian Minsk Motorbike
Muong and Rice Terraces

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 22nd 2020

Thomas Hardy is my favourite novelist. Today I watched a mediocre 1994 TV dramatization of his novel, ‘The Return of the Native’, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. Yesterday I watched, for the third time, John Schlesinger’s superb 1967 movie of ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’. Two years ago, ago I watched the 2015 remake of ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, starring Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen. Shortly after that, I watched, for the second time, Dennis Potter’s brilliant TV adaptation of ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’. A long time ago I watched ‘Tess’, Roman Polanski’s reworking of ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. These are all the Thomas Hardy movies I have watched. Now that at least two of them are fresh in my mind, I have decided to record my thoughts and opinions thereon. ‘The Return of the Native’ is ... read more
Nastassja Kinski Being Offered a Phallic Strawberry by Alec d'Urberville
Terence Stamp and Julie Christie
Alan Bates as Michael Henchard

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 17th 2020

It’s high time I wrote something about the greatest writer who has ever lived. Years ago I wrote about his Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), and I have mentioned him in my essay on favourite books, but I’ve never gathered together all my thoughts about the man. I like the appellation ‘Willie the Shake’, which I stole from a Joni Mitchell song, ‘Talk to Me’. I also like the Spanish translation of William Shakespeare: ‘Guillermo Agitalanza’, which I came across in Argentina. However, as Juliet said: “What’s in a name?” What matters surely is the body of work which the man has bequeathed to posterity. Let me say straight away that all the speculation about the true authorship of Shakespeare’s plays is of little interest to me. Having read ... read more
My Shakespeare Epiphany
Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet
My Favourite Lines

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 14th 2020

"What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” This is Juliet talking about Romeo’s name. Unfortunately for her, Romeo’s name – he is a Montague – matters a great deal; if he had not been a Montague, there would have been no tragedy And so it is in life generally. Names can be very important. Occasionally a name that began life auspiciously ends up as a curse. A prime example of this is ‘Ayds’, the discontinued appetite-suppressant candy that enjoyed strong sales in the 1970s and early 1980s. I remember seeing advertisements for Ayds in the UK newspapers. Then, when the AIDS disease hit the headlines, the product’s name became a liability, sales plummeted and Ayds was discontinued. I would have expected Corona beer sales ... read more
William Henry Pratt aka Boris Karloff
Eric Marlon Bishop aka Jamie Foxx

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 13th 2020

Yesterday I read an online review entitled ‘In Defence of Bảo Tàng Dịa Chất, Saigon’s Most Neglected Museum’. I’d never heard of the place. Bảo tàng địa chất means ‘Geological Museum’. The review sets out to refute the brutal review that the museum is given by Trip Advisor: “It is unimaginatively organized. Unless you are very interested in Geology, it is not worth the visit.” However, the review is hardly a ‘defence’ because it does little more than damn with faint praise. Its conclusion reads as follows: “You should go to the Geological Museum if you are a mineral nerd … You should go because, for all its flaws, the museum is unflinchingly earnest, welcoming (with a bit of luck), kind, a little strange and filled with unspecified history. It is Saigon. It is beautiful.” Apart ... read more
Meteorite - the Piece de Resistance
The Most Striking Thing There
The Geological Museum Building

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two March 4th 2020

This is a BBC radio play that I came across circa 1980 while teaching in the UK. I used it with considerable success in the classroom. Unfortunately, nobody apart from me seems to have any knowledge of it. I have written a separate blog about this fine play - about how, in 2017, I rediscovered the old reel-to-reel tape in a box in my Reading bedroom, and then brought it back with me to HCMC, where I had it digitized. There is no reference to the play on the internet - let alone a copy - so I have written down the text myself. This was a long and laborious process - listening to snatches of dialogue, then writing them down - but I enjoyed it. What kept me going was the thought that I was ... read more

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