Sep 22, 2007

Fish Soup and Crab

Vạn Kiếp is a small street running between Phan Xích Long and Phan Dăng Lưu. Unusual in HCCM, a collection of street food style vendors straddle under the one canvas selling all manner of things.

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Bún Mắm was one such dish being sold, a fish broth choc full of prawn, pork, eggplant and squid. Very fishy, but not bad at all (I am no food critic).

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Other stalls in this short row were selling things like bun bo hue and Chinese noodles.

Over on Dien Tien Hoang is crab heaven. Can you spot the number?

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Chả Giò Cua Biển, in English, crab spring rolls. And my my, crab spring roll is no lie. Check out the white, succulent contents of these puppies.

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Chunky crab spring rolls go well mashed up in a bowl with soft white noodles, the usual addition of herbs and salads and a sprinkling of fish sauce - I can still taste it now. I often read travellers criticising Vietnamese food -- show them to my door, the fools.

Sep 18, 2007


Students who have signed up to participate in our service 'Learn' presented a demo on Sunday afternoon in front of a panel of Vietnam residents, all foreigners. I wasn't sure what to expect - and we started badly with heavy rain delaying the start. Location was hardly perfect and we had to wait for it to subside as the tin roof just above wasn't conducive for presentations.

Now, in Gladiators style, students......ready?

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Our group, these from RMIT University, started with a presentation on Vietnamese history, from long, long ago until today. Nguyen headed this one.

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It became apparent there were some mistakes in the presentation, this being the first time we'd all seen it, me included. Of course Nguyen was disappointed and understood the need for historical facts (especially dates) to be absolutely spot on. One thing the audience did like was the fact that they heard about recent Vietnamese history from a Vietnamese perspective. A slightly delicate situation maybe, all my guest were American and it only dawned on me a little late. We moved on to the food demo.

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Thao showed the audience how to make spring rolls with pork, vegetables and fish sauce, then invited them up to try it themselves.

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After this, our latest star Vu from International University gave a presentation on TET holiday, with some interesting background and legend (Vu I do have a picture just at home, I will edit it in later...).

The concept of 'Learn' is one I am determined to work with. I like the idea of a one hour workshop which includes these presentations and demos. There are some practical difficulties with Learn however. The content is no problem, it can be refined and perfected, and the students are so enthusiastic. The difficulties I see are these:
  • It is not worth doing unless there are at least 8 people signed up for a session, therefore we need to target tour groups rather than independent travelers. However, I'd love to offer it to anyone at a daily time.
  • We need a better location than present. The roof was leaking.
I thank you.

Sep 14, 2007

Connections Stash

As old friends of mine would have said, stash!

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We've been on the streets of Saigon giving out some Connections fliers to tourists. My wife first did it with some of our young student volunteers. It was tough, she said. The common answer was 'we're leaving tomorrow', if any answer was forthcoming at all. I tried it one Sunday morning. I thought it would be pleasant to be able to simply chat with a few backpackers, see where they are going and where they've been, but nay. The first people I approached who were bent over a map on a bench literally recoiled in horror as my lips moved in their direction. I felt dirty. Then, I started to think about it, and of course some random white guy roaming around Saigon striking up conversations would probably be incomprehensible to a SE Asia weary, tout hardened, paranoid backpacker.

Stash, we used to refer to at Uni and on our travels, is basically free stuff or something you can add to your collection. For example, the Island Divers T-shirt we all bought on Koh Phi Phi after completing dive certs was most definitely 'stash'. Hence the picture of my Connections stash.

So the idea behind the stash is to give our students a bit of an identity if they are direct marketing. I am cautious about both T-shirt and hat together, it's pushing the boundary on good taste and it's not really the message behind what we are trying to achieve, stepping away from horribly organised tourism. The T-shirt by itself is quiet smart, so I declared thou shalt not wear ye hat together with thine T-shirt. Tis cheesy.

Sep 9, 2007

Are you hard headed? (Part II)

So so busy. I feel wrong without posting, as the numbers slip slowly away, time to get a few back. I want to go back to the article I wrote on helmets some time ago, here.
AIPF (Asia Injury Prevention Foundation) headed by Greig Craft of the USA have recently launched their public awareness campaign on wearing helmets in the city. I was lucky to meet with Greig recently and hopefully I will be helping AIPF in a small role in the future. The ads are on billboards around the city and look like this : visually shocking with clear messages....

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The message on the ads reads 'Every year over 12,000 people die on our roads and 30,000 are seriously injured. That means thousands of families are left picking up the pieces. Families tourtured by the loss of a loved one. Crippled by reduced income or the sudden need to care for a relative with permanent brain damage. The sad truth is that most of these cases could have been prevented by simply wearing a helmet. When you think about it, there are no excuses.'

The ads are city wide and also appear on buses. Keep a eye out for them:

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See for more information.

The statistics are truly awful, as Greig mentioned in a 1993 BBC report, 500 children a month are lost in Vietnam due to traffic accidents. The excuses mentioned in the ads above are all too common - 'It ruins my hair', 'They don't look cool' and 'It makes me look stupid'.....of course, ridiculous when considering the effects of a serious traffic accident for everyone involved and the burden on the nation's health service. Here's Greig speaking on the issue:

Another thing that should be stressed is this : 'striking the pavement at ANY speed without a helmet can cause brain damage'. We've all heard of people falling and being knocked unconscious or even dying just from a standing position....sitting on a bike is no different. That stuff the road is made of, that corner of the curb, that stuff is HARD....just try giving yourself a little tappy-tappy on the cranium. Kneel down and butt the curb gently, see if it hurts.

Worse than the Vietnamese are the foreigners themselves who come here and see no need to wear a helmet. We are supposedly from developed countries. These kind of problems are supposed to be limited to developing countries where a 'lack of education' and other commonly banded around phraseology are blamed, but those folks who come over and shun helmets are just proving that they need to be regulated and enforced just like the 'uneducated masses' of Vietnam. People involved in the fight to cut road deaths in the developing world do not use words like 'epidemic' and 'war' lightly, the least representatives of so called developed countries could do is show that they are not willing to become a victim either. Surely as westerners, we have to set an example as a role model for kids - so let them see you are wearing a helmet, and maybe they will be more inclined to put one on.

One of the most popular helmet brands is Protec, made and produced in a Hanoi factory by AIPF. For $25 you can get yourself a nice 'tropical' helmet with leather trim. Read more about the Protec project here.

The government has bought forward the date for the nationwide implementation of helmets. From September the 15th it is required on all highways by law. From December 15th, all streets nationwide.

Resolution 32 was signed on July 15th. Included was the above dates.

Enforcement will also be stepped up on other violations such as drink driving, speeding and running red lights. Penalties will increase substantially. For example, 30 day confiscation of motorbikes will be enacted if drivers commit one of following violations: overloading, using opposite lane or restricted way, swerving, cutting-in, red light running, and disobeying traffic police commands. 90 day confiscation of motorbikes will be imposed in cases of under-aged drivers or unlicensed drivers. Given Vietnamese reliance on the motorbike, these are harsh and severe penalties that should ensure compliance of law - and for foreigners as well.

(source, AIPF newsletter, September 2007).