Blogs from Vietnam, Asia


Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two May 14th 2022

Yesterday morning, May 13th 2022, I learnt from the Guardian newspaper that Robert Gillmor, the bird artist, had died. I was slightly shocked. He is probably the most famous person I have ever spoken to. We have several things in common: he loved birds; he was Reading born and bred; he was a teacher (at Leighton Park School in Reading); he knew my mother. I first came across him in Reading in the mid-1960s. At that time my mother was a private nurse, and her latest assignment was caring for Robert Gillmor’s old mother. When Robert learnt I was a keen bird-watcher and a member of ROC (Reading Ornithological Club), he made a point of meeting me. I can’t remember if he gave me anything, but he may have – possibly Xmas cards adorned with his ... read more
Mute Swan

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two May 7th 2022

Every day, for the past few weeks, I have been posting a saucy old seaside postcard on my Facebook page. Back in the late 1950s and early 60s, I used to see such postcards when we went for family holidays to Hayling Island. What do we mean by saucy seaside postcards? The term was coined for cards featuring images of well-endowed, often scantily clad, females and doubles entendres full of sexual innuendo. The most celebrated creator of such images is Donald McGill. In 1954 he was prosecuted for his designs under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act, found guilty and fined £50 with costs of £25. McGill was so famous – or notorious – that, in 1941, George Orwell wrote an essay about him and the whole saucy postcard genre. According to Orwell: “Your first impression is ... read more
Classic Donald McGill - Pickled Gherkin

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two May 2nd 2022

Many years ago I wrote an essay entitled ‘The Fascination of Chess’. Now I am writing a similar essay about snooker. The trigger for this essay is the World Snooker Championship, which I am watching on TV. The semi-finals finished yesterday – Saturday April 30th 2022 – and the final begins today. Ronnie O’Sullivan will be playing Judd Trump. The standard of play in this world championship has been very high. Three seasoned old pros – O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams - have been playing near or at their absolute best. In a semi-final that will live long in the memory, Judd Trump, a mere stripling at 32, vanquished Williams 17-16. Williams was trailing 1-7, and later 5-12, but, incredibly, took a 16-15 lead, before Trump won the final two frames and the match. Definitely ... read more
Genius at Work 2022
Alex Higgins
World Champion 1982

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast April 6th 2022

As a schoolboy during the 1950s and 60s, I was constantly eating mince pies and currant cake. These were baked by my mother in the gas-fired oven of our Reading kitchen. We were a poor family, and Mum was a consummate housewife who saved money by baking all manner of things: apple tarts (using windfall apples from our back garden), apple crumbles, rhubarb tarts, jam tarts, treacle tarts, lemon meringue (which she pronounced ‘lemon meringoo’) pies, cupcakes, scones, sponge cakes and, most importantly, mince pies and currant cakes. Mum’s currant cake was better than any cake you could buy in the shops. It was dark brown, rich, heavy, sweet and delicious. I loved Mum’s baking. If I had a dollar for every mince pie and slice of currant cake I wolfed down during my formative years, ... read more
Mum in the Kitchen
Mum at the Dinner Table
The Sort of Fruit Cake I Enjoyed

Asia » Vietnam » South Central Coast » Phu Yen January 13th 2022

The harmonious combination of “blue sea – white sand – golden sunshine” has created a beautiful Ganh Da Dia – Da Dia Reef Phu Yen that cannot describe in words. This place is a unique geological structure with black and yellow basalt rocks in all kinds of conceivable shapes spread over an area of more than a square kilometre along the edge of the sea. From a distance, it looks like a giant black beehive. It was created by volcanic eruptions millions of years ago. The lava, when it came in contact with the water, cooled, contracted and fractured and formed vertical or horizontal columns before becoming polygonal rocks like they are today. Besides this sea cliff, there are only four other places on earth that have this magnificent phenomenon. These are Giant’s Causeway in Northern ... read more

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City January 11th 2022

I passed on a Guardian poetry article to my friend David Cooke, who is a published poet. Dave is old school; he adores the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Philip Larkin and early Ted Hughes. For Dave, poetry is all about craftsmanship - selecting the right words and putting them in the right order. It has little to do with content and nothing at all to do with the personality of the poet. Dave is cynical about modern poetry. He thinks that these days a poet stands a greater chance of being published if he or she is gay / coloured / ethnically unusual / physically or socially disadvantaged / strange in some way. The more of these boxes a poet ticks, the more successful he or she is likely to be. The quality of the actual ... read more
David Cooke

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two January 6th 2022

When ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ was released in 1994, I couldn’t make head nor tail of the title and assumed it must be pretty boring. And it may have been the title that put off a large section of the public, because the movie earned a mere $16 million in its first theatrical run, way short of its $25 million budget. By contrast, the critics loved it, and in 1995 it was nominated for 7 Oscars. Since then ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ has become legendary, rated by all and sundry as one of the finest movies ever made. The imdb website gives it a 9.3 rating, the highest of any movie – higher than ‘The Godfather’ (9.2) or ‘The Godfather: Part 2’ (9.0) or ‘Pulp Fiction’ (8.9) or ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King’ ... read more
'Marriage of Figaro' Scene
The Escape Tunnel
Free At Last

Asia » Vietnam January 4th 2022

Today Huy took us to the city where he grew up. Da Nang was the place where the first U.S. combat troops landed when the Marines came ashore in March 1965. Da Nang marks the halfway point between the capital in the north, Hanoi, and Ho Chi Minh City in the south. It’s the fourth largest city in Vietnam. Huy explained how over the past 20 years the city has regenerated itself. Along with the gorgeous Han river, flowing through Da Nang city like a delicate ribbon, bridges are some of Da Nang's most famous specialties. Built in 1997 and opened in 2000, Han River Bridge is known as the first modern bridge designed by Vietnamese architects and local workers, also, the first swing bridge ever in Vietnam. Becoming a significant cultural spot, it not only ... read more

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two December 27th 2021

As I grow older, I become increasingly nostalgic. I often look back at my childhood in Reading, a period of my life which now seems almost idyllic. I have already written several essays about growing up in Reading, but I have never written about the variety of tradesmen and other people who passed by our house or came to our front door. For no particular reason, one of them popped into my mind today, and then another one and then some more. We lived at 36 Hatherley Road in an end-of-terrace house in a working-class neighbourhood. My father bought the house in 1955, and I lived there continuously until going to Leeds University in 1970. Every morning the milk and newspapers and mail would be delivered. There was no internet, so we relied on the radio ... read more
Lighting the Gas Lamps
Coal Delivery
Tonibell Ice-Cream Van

Asia » Vietnam » Southeast » Ho Chi Minh City » District Two December 19th 2021

In 2010 I was still teaching at the American International School in HCMC. Here is the Xmas letter I sent out to friends: Dear Overseas Friend(s) When I sent out my 2009 Xmas encyclical, I was struggling to cope with a deranged boss. Well, he jumped ship last February, before they could sack him, and was replaced by a kindergarten-trained German lady with no previous experience of running a High School. She is a workaholic but directs her energy into some pretty useless channels and is too egotistical to seek advice. However, she is passably competent, which means I am probably saddled with her for as long as I remain at AIS (American International School) – which may be a long long time. My attempts to find employment at another, better, school in Saigon have, for ... read more

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