Through my eyes: Faces of Hanoi

TGIF! Let’s go back to Vietnam for today…

We were walking through an utterly chaotic marketplace (think motorbikes, squealing children and rampant chickens all battling it out on the streets), and noticed these guys set up in the middle of it all. Cooking, eating and smoking, while I was fearing for my safety (motorbikes don’t really care whether they ride on the road or the footpath), they couldn’t have been more relaxed… They seemed to be having as much fun watching the chaos unfold around them as I was.
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I really didn’t see much graffiti or street art in Vietnam, so this caught my eye straight away. It was around lunch time, and there was a decent crowd gathered around the little plastic stools and baskets filled with herbs and assorted sauces. We stopped for a banh mi – how could we not?!
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While the night market was being set up by the hard working Vietnamese women (simultaneously swatting away cheeky children), the men called happy hour and gathered on corners for beers and a gossip session. Coming from a culture where the work is divided relatively evenly between the sexes, this was a big reminder to me that not all women are fortunate enough to not be expected to work, raise a family, cook, clean, and do whatever else needs to be done…
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This photo is not an uncommon sight on the streets of Hanoi. For the most part, it’s the women run the street food stalls, and when they’re not serving up something delicious, they’re either chatting animatedly with their companions, or staring off into space.  It’s hot, humid, and there are more motorbikes on the roads than you’d think possible, stirring up all sorts of dust and pollution. These women work hard in conditions that aren’t always comfortable. They’re pretty amazing 🙂img_7109

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Through my eyes: Faces of Saigon

Time to go back to Vietnam for the morning…

Early in the morning, this lady was already out and cooking in a narrow alley behind a larger street. With the piles of plates lined up on a small plastic table to the side, I assumed she was preparing for the morning breakfast rush…
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These ladies had a lot to say. I may not speak or understand Vietnamese, but I know two women having a good gossip session when I see it! They were so animated and excited, so I’m guessing that who or whatever the topic of conversation was was pretty juicy.
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The market stalls selling fresh meat, fruit, veggies and herbs seemed to be mostly the domain of the women. They’re the bosses. They basically run the country. This lady was no exception – again, it was early in the morning and she was getting set up to sell.  Also, the ladies of Vietnam somehow manage to make matching two piece summer suits actually look good. Even with gumboots.
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This guy had not a care in the world. I’m not sure he was totally aware of his surroundings either. He sat in this empty doorway as the cars and motorbikes flew by, at the start of a busy working day, and he rolled and smoked his cigarette with a look of complete peace and oblivion on his face. Had a massive car accident occurred right in front of him, I’m still not sure it would have been enough to rouse him from his trance…
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And this lady. I have mixed feelings about her. On one hand, she grilled up some damn delicious pork skewers for us in the middle of the busy marketplace, and served them up hot off the grill with some very tasty sauce. On the other hand, she decided to play the “screw-the-foreigners” game, and charged us VND 40,000 for each individual pork skewer, rather than the VND 40,000 for the whole plate on the menu card. Sneaky. But, that’s the way it rolls over there! Lesson learnt.
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Through my eyes: Faces of Hoi An (part 2)

This lady was set up in the little shade those trees provided, selling cold drinks. The heat of the sun was extraordinary that day, and it wasn’t just me feeling it – we walked by just as she took a cold drink for herself.
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These guys were leaving school for the day; they were among the last out of the blue gates, making their way down the street. On either side of the school gates were street food stalls set up, and groups of the older children congregated there for something to eat, while the younger ones seemed to just head straight off home.
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This lady was among the fray in the market. With sections for seafood, meat, herbs, spices, noodles, eggs, and whatever else was left to throw together, describing it as chaotic would be an understatement. But this lady just sat there, quietly tending to her baskets of fish…
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We’d seen this dog wondering around for a few days, easily recognisable by its beautiful face and little white socks. This particular day, it was the beautiful turquoise colour of the shop front that caught my eye first, and then I noticed these guys just sitting together, watching the world go by.
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If this wasn’t the most beautiful little face I saw in Hoi An, then I just don’t know! We were wandering around the marketplace just on closing time, and made our way up the stairs and onto the balcony over looking the street below. We saw a little rooftop courtyard where this little girl was playing, alone. Singing and dancing and giggling and moving rocks and leaves around on the floor into patterns. I took a photo from where I was standing on the stairs on the way back down when she saw me, ran over and smiled. Children are amazing; they don’t see colour or race, they just see someone to smile and wave at 🙂
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Through my eyes: Faces of Hoi An (part 1)

The people in Hoi An are some of the loveliest I’ve ever met. Though there was often a language barrier to overcome, they still made an effort to understand and be understood. They were happy to joke and barter with us in the market place, explain the different teas and coffees on offer at the tea houses, and apologised when they didn’t understand our questions – not that it could possibly be their fault that we had come to their country unable to speak their language!

Some of my favourites photos from the trip were of the people; so much so that this is a two-parter. Let me start to introduce you to some of the faces and souls that make up Hoi An…

 

This older woman was slowly pacing around the market place, utterly oblivious to everything going on around her. Including the speeding motor bikes, almost stopping my heart several times.
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We watched this beautiful lady from the porch seats of the Hoi An Roastery coffee shop. She was sitting there with a dreamy look in her eyes, until the family dog came out to investigate. Look to the balcony above her head and you’ll see it; apparently pup was unhappy with the goings on outside, and made it known very loudly. Not long after this photo was taken, the lady left her post and soon later appeared on the balcony, at which point pup was unceremoniously thrown inside.
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I was actually trying to take a photo of the stunning building that houses the Sakura Restaurant and divides the street, but this lady was shooting for a photobomb. When husband pointed that out, I told her to smile and I’d take her photo instead, and smile she did 🙂
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We had the most amazing cao lau here! The lady on the left in the polka dot top is Bee and she runs the show like an absolute boss. Watching her make food, greet and seat guests, collect money and tidy up was  street choreography at its best. Later that night, I drew up the scene in watercolour, and showed her the next night when we went back for dinner; the squeal of excitement she let out and the way her eyes lit up as she grabbed my notebook from me to show her friend was pure magic, and one of those moments I’ll never forget.
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And this lady we visited for donuts. She just calmly cooked her donuts in the tiny little vat of boiling oil in the middle of her cart, amidst the mayhem of the night, and looked like nothing could possibly disturb her zen…
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This is Saigon

It’s always hard to know where to start back after a break…

We had an amazing time in Vietnam; it felt so good to be back in a place I loved so much the first time around! We had 2 weeks over there, with our time split between Saigon, Hoi An and Hanoi. I have plenty to write about, and lots of gorgeous shots to show you.

For now, though, I wanted to just share this one image. One of my favourites from the trip. The one that sums up Saigon perfectly for me. It’s a city that’s both laid back and lazy, and frenetic and fast paced. People seem to be either rushing around, hellbent on getting to wherever they’re going right now, or sitting back and watching the world go by without a care in the world. One of the many reasons why I love this city ever so much…

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Eat here: the little pink Pad Thai cart on Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

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So this is a ridiculous story. I went to Thailand for the first time a few years ago with my best friend, E (who I had lunch with on the weekend at Sookie La La, which I’ll write about a little later this week when my motivation levels are low and brunch cravings are high). Our accommodation was down the south end of Patong Beach, and on our first day there, we walked along the street parallel with the beach for a while to get our bearings. We found this little, bright pink food cart around lunch time, with a pair silently firing out the most incredible smelling dishes. Stomachs grumbling, we stopped to check out the menu, and decided to order ourselves a seafood pad thai each. It was probably the best pad thai I’ve ever eaten – fresh like you wouldn’t believe, cooked up right under our noses, under a flurry of hands and sauce bottles and woks and noodles. It was a very fond food memory from our time there…

When I went back to visit Phuket again early last year with husband, I told him all about this fantastic little food cart that we ate at numerous times during my last trip. We walked up the beach to the spot I thought I remembered it being, on a snowball’s chance in hell it might still be around. No such luck 😦 We walked a little further, until the sun started to get a bit too strong, and decided to double back and find a spot on the beach to leave our stuff so we could go for a swim. What happened next, I still don’t believe, and if husband hadn’t been there as my witness, no one else would either… Dead set, as we walked back past the spot where I remembered the food cart being parked, it drove up onto the side walk, turned around into the same spot, and officially opened for lunchtime business!!!! I actually literally stopped in my tracks and sat down on the nearest block of concrete to make sure it wasn’t just a heat and hunger induced hallucination… Husband didn’t waste any time – he ran straight over and ordered 2 serves of pad thai (good man).

While a little spicier than last time I had it, it was every bit still as delicious, and I do believe it was the same people working the wok, much to my disbelief! I was beyond stoked to have been able to find and repeat this food experience, and even happier to find it was still as delicious as I’d remembered it! That meal, to me, is perfect, and what travel is all about – cheap and delicious food ordered off a menu by pointing to pictures in lieu of English descriptions, served by real people and being eaten by locals as well as tourists, on the side of a road with my feet in the sand. That’s what travel and experiencing it all is about. That’s real. Has anyone else been to Phuket’s Patong Beach and seen these guys??!

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Through my eyes: New Orleans, 10 years post-Katrina…

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It’s hard to believe it was 10 years ago to the day that Hurricane Katrina tore apart New Orleans; 10 years ago I was half way through my university degree, still living at home, in a relatively new relationship with the guy that would become my husband. When we first started dating, we spent a lot of time talking about all the places we wanted to travel to (and it was a bloody long list), the places we wanted to see and, more importantly, experience. New Orleans was a city pretty high up on both our lists, and we were both equally surprised at the others’ desire to visit. New Orleans, pre-Katrina, wasn’t exactly a big ticket city; at least not for 2 Aussie uni students. It wasn’t a Paris or a London or  a New York. But we both wanted to go. He wanted to go for the music, the night life, the care-free atmosphere in a city that seemed to be built on fun. I couldn’t actually put into words why I wanted to go; it was one of those bizarre, inexplicable, “I don’t know why, but I know I belong in that city” things. Something about the music, the art, the voodoo, the cemeteries, the literature, the food – I just knew that any place there was a coalescence of all those things was a place I needed to be.

But we were still kids. We were both full time uni students. We had big dreams, but no money to fund them. When Katrina hit the city, we were both devastated; for some still unknown reason, we felt a strange connection to this mysterious city on the other side of the world. We debated over and over again whether it’d still be a city we’d want to visit post-Katrina. Would it be somehow tainted? Would the recovery effort have taken away all of the magic and the charm we wanted to visit for? Would they, a people so fiercely proud and protective of their city, still accept visitors as openly? We weren’t sure, but we were both determined to visit anyway and find out for ourselves.

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Ten and a half years after we started dating, and nine and a half long years after Katrina hit, we finally made it. We finally visited this city we were both so strangely drawn to. And while the spirit of the people was so strong, the physical effects of Katrina were still so punishingly visible.

This storm caused damage on a scale that can’t be accurately understood through words. We’ve all read the numbers, the statistics, but even they seem completely unreal.
80% of the city under water.
Almost 2000 lives lost.
Close to $110 billion in damage.

There have been hundreds of articles written about it all, and nothing I write will be as meaningful as some of the first-hand accounts written by the residents and survivors (I’d especially recommend watching  HBO’s Treme and reading Nine Lives by Dan Baum). What I can say, as a complete foreigner and outsider, is that New Orleans changed the trajectory of my life. Even post-Katrina, it was still magic. All of the imperfections made it so perfect. My soul was different for having visited. And all of our reservations were completely unfounded; the charm was still there, the recovery effort was incredible, and the people couldn’t have been more kind and welcoming. Instead of writing about the recovery ten years on, because (let’s be honest) I really don’t have the insight into it like the locals will, let me show you New Orleans through my eyes almost 10 years on. And I’m not talking the pretty touristy sights. Let me show you some of the more real, less brochure-worthy, genuine places and things I saw.

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