Notes from my travels and life as an artist working in the dynamic world of International Development

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Maison de Tet, the micro batch craft coffee delicious. In a renovated villa along West Lake, we could have been in any upmarket restaurant on the planet. A good selection of jazz with our brunch.

A walk out along West Lake, dodging garbage, building sites, bicycles, scooters and joggers. While this is not a pedestrian friendly city for the most part, the traffic is courteous.

My painting ‘Cool Kids’ sorted, the composition too far to the left of the canvas for my liking throwing out the balance. The scooter, an engineering drawing rather than an impressionist painting needed to be ‘pushed back’ into the canvas. Might need to tighten the roses and add a shadow to them.

Days settling into a routine with coffee at Cafe Linh, the morning spent walking about the city before the traffic gets crazy and the heat powers through the streets. Afternoon in the air conditioned apartment messing about with paint, and an early evening homemade beer ‘Bia Hoi’ in their greenish glasses, at our local crazy spot before settling in to the city winding down at the end of the day. Kids out playing in the streets, people sitting alongside the road chatting, with the random stopping of scooters or purchase from street vendor carts.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures


A tad vacant from messed up body-clock. Rocket fuel coffee start

Demanding, rapid strokes of my fingers before the acrylic dries. Conscious I am of the criticism leveled at artists who depict Vietnam as the ‘cutesy’ worker in a conical hat and the village with rice fields. For my painting of the modern Hanoi, scooters, attitude, cell phones. On 50cmx40cm, 335gram linen from Amsterdam, that sultry Vettriano look in my head. Her curves flowing into those of the scooter. Roses added for women’s day and that hint of red for the Vietnamese national colour. White of the Lotus flower.

Terry went to the Hanoi Cooking Centre, and I enjoyed the scrumptious result.

‘Today I went to the Hanoi Cooking Centre to try and orientate ourselves to the food we see – or at least to try and understand the ingredients. A fascinating three hours that left me exhausted and with a stiff neck from listening like a budgie – my head cocked to one side trying to unravel the English from the accent. The cooking processes are much the same. Garlic is garlic and slicing, chopping, frying and marinating are the same in any language. Chili, garlic, ginger, coriander, lime, sugar, fish sauce and salt and pepper are the main ingredients. Rice noodles and rice paper were new to work with – thin and fragile to moisture. 

Meat (in this case chicken thigh) is coarsely butchered with bone splinters lurking. Prawns are halved to go a long way. Pork is sliced very thinly for the same reason. And salads make up the bulk of the meal – lettuce and bamboo shoots and banana-flower slivers marinated in lime water. And of course, rice and noodles to fill one up. And for our carb conscious or diabetics, a roast peanut and sesame seed dry dip (crushed in a pestle and mortar) adds flavour in place of the sweet chili dipping sauce.’

Music on the Beats Pill, with the French Doors of the apartment open to the sounds, and smells, of the street.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures


Manzi, an artist-lead art space, cafe and gallery located amongst a leafy garden in an old villa near the apartment. The main exhibition by a young Vietnamese artist was a tad scary, with a diverse gallery wall upstairs. With night falling, we enjoyed the cozy atmosphere away from the frenetic streets. Alice, a disconnect.

Women’s day in Vietnam. Flower sellers brilliant spots of colour, with women in brilliant coloured Ao-Dai’s posing for photographs. Roses from the market 10,000 per stem.

Market shopping excursion. Even a smile from the bustling stall holders. Tomatoes, cabbage and spring onions (30,000), with a pork fillet at 50,000 and meat patties cooked on the grill in front of us, for 80,000. All weighed amidst the chatter, and pricing indicated with cash.

Escaped from the frenetic to the wide, tree lined (dracontomelon duperreanums) heritage walk along Phan Dinh Phung. Cafe Villa, lunch stop to rest weary feet. Ginger, garlic and lemon grass soup with a heap of bamboo shoots and strips of delicately flavored pork. Nothing crazy. Subtle flavours waiting to be uncovered. 

Illustration, acrylic and marker pen on paper, of the cafe along the lakeshore with its ‘biker gang’. The first of the planned heap I hope to pant during the next month.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures


The train arrived on schedule at 03h30, leaving us 4 hours before we could drop our bags. Lemon tea, a car park disco. Small taxis with impressive hooters and sound systems.

Polite taxi driver, whose meter seemed to be of the ‘non-rip-off variety’. Defined as: a meter that turns faster than your heart beats!, brought us to the AirB&B at 60 Nguyen Truong To, Ba Dinh. The Circle K shop our reference point.

Cafe Linh, the first one to open near our apartment, for a rocket fuel coffee start to the day. Random art on the walls, ‘Art studio’ sign on the door of our apartment block. Smoking, never my best, an issue, with cafes filled with smoke. I did manage to get a portrait photo to use as a painting reference.

Ten hours of pavement pounding, a bit like ‘Gulliver in Lilliput Land’, through the Old Town of Hanoi. Senses assaulted by noise, dirt and uncontrolled chaos. A stop to orientate the map, before heading off at a tangent that didn’t end where expected. No worries, another dozen wrong turns and a helpful cyclo (three wheeled bicycle taxi) driver had us pointed in the right direction. Glad for the calmness of a brunch at Pan Pacific hotel. Total wimp that I am. There is absolutely nowhere to walk, other than the street as parked scooters take up every inch of space on the sidewalk. Perhaps 6am is the best time to be out walking in the city? Cool, quiet and somewhat magical. 

Saigon cafe along Truc Bach bustling with a bunch of scooter riders that seemingly fell out of the musical ‘Grease’. Leather jackets, studs, slicked back hair and attitude. The trendy women on Vespa’s, designer brand clothing, red lipstick and even more attitude.

Chopstick skills scrutinized Not sure what level proficiency was assessed. Chopstick Grade B?

Diary of an Adventure

Traveling diabetic #4


Jan here.
Walk through the market to get an idea of what greens were available
Tofu, negligible carbs, needing all the help it can get from the soya sauce infused with chili, and the betel leaf (?) it was served with. Didn’t manage the fermented anchovy sauce.
For a diabetic, the colorful drinks menu at Manzi, the artist-lead art space, cafe and gallery located amongst a leafy garden in an old house near the apartment, didn’t appeal and we had already had enough coffee to fuel a moon launch. The light eats were carb rich, however, we enjoyed the cozy atmosphere away from the frenetic streets.
Cafe Villa, lunch stop to rest weary feet. Ginger, garlic and lemon grass soup with a heap of bamboo shoots and strips of delicately flavored pork. Didn’t worry with the rice. Nothing crazy. Subtle flavours waiting to be uncovered. 
Blood sugars

High 6.3 mmol/L

Low 4.6 mmol/L

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventure

Reunification Train (Saigon to Hanoi)

Before heading to the train we stopped at Annam Gourmet Market for picnic style meals of cheese, pate and nuts to last us for the 1700km, 36 hour train journey to Hanoi.

Cabin bunks booked (two bunks in a 4 berth sleeper), with the assistance of the hotel ensured that we at least started the journey with valid tickets. Thunder and pouring rain for the taxi ride through the city to the station. That there was only one train made life simple and there was plenty of assistance to help the obvious tourists find their berth.

Sheets, a brown duvet and pillow (clean if threadbare) on the thin mattress our home, shared with a young man heading to Hanoi and an elderly lady who went straight to sleep and disappeared during the night. She was replaced by a business man, who in turn was replaced by an elderly gentlemen. All exceptionally polite. Conversation difficult and halting.

The train didn’t work for photos as the windows are misted from the air conditioning and much of the journey runs between high growth that blocks the views. That said, the scenery was ever changing with a bunch of construction going on for new roads. Backyards hosting skinny chickens and occasional pigs. A variety of tombstones and one military graveyard filled our window horizon. Chinese style temples and church spires sporadic. Waterlogged fields everywhere, surrounded by lakes and canals. Predictable lonesome water buffaloes ankle deep.  

Trolleys of fast food and drink were constantly moving through the train. The coffee, shaved ice with some sort of coffee syrup, which we skipped. Settling for plenty of water and the occasional beer we could get at the main stops. Food was available a couple of times a day. Plastic trays with rice served with some sort of meat looking thing, a bit of green veg, sauce and Pho. One of the meals also had tofu, pickled egg.

Creaking with the soft weary sigh of grandma’s couch on the patio. Bounce, with a sway, emphasising each undulation of the track. Our cabin, a magnet for passing people who stopped to converse or merely look at us. Announcements over the intercom, a form of ‘Rap’.

The train is old with a rudimentary effort to keep it clean. The toilet facilities basic. Grateful for the water and soap and blast of air from the open window.

Ticket cost Vdg 1285000 ($128.00) each. The top bunk is less expensive than the bottom bunk. 36 hours is a long time! Plus two more hours of darkness before sunrise at Hanoi station. And check in for our accommodation only at 14:00. A slow morning ahead of us still. 

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Ho Chi Minh City (often referred to, even today, as Saigon)

A day of sensory contrasts: humidity and air conditioned chills, stale water drains and wafts of incense, designer stilettos and slip-slops with toe-stockings, stilt houses, mirrored skyscrapers and a French-style opera house, Parisian pastries and Vietnamese Pho. 

One of those turn at the red traffic light, go straight when they are green, catch the first bus that stops sort of days. Directions, with marked maps, from our helpful hotel (L ‘ Odeon) kept us from getting totally lost.

A walk down through the upmarket streets of District 7, Crescent Park, across the Starlight Bridge before the brief air conditioning relief of the shopping center. The Coffee Factory (TCF), a definite, with its iced jasmine tea served before the coffee delicious. The iced coffee came with an ice foam (in reality ice-cream) a tad challenging. The coffee full of flavour.

The bus to District 1, air conditioned and simple to negotiate. Helpful conductors made sure we didn’t step off into the way of a hurtling motorcycle and settled us into the rhythm of the city. The market, amazingly clean, full of life and easy banter.  

Typical Vietnamese meal at Mon Hue, recommended by the hotel as it had pictures of the food and didn’t charge foreigners extra. Skirted the noodles, enjoyed the broth infused with lime, ginger, chili flavours and grazed my way through a plate of fresh green bits (a typical Vietnamese serving, which I ate separately and did not add to the noodle dish). The meat bits far too frightening for me to negotiate.

Darkness comes early and the streets are soon dancing with the ever changing reflections of building light-shows and scooter headlamps. The terrace at White House Coffee for a beer listening to a great music selection, watching the street vendors perform their own magic show.

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

Terry’s delectable ‘Salmon en Papillote’, which I did on the Weber grill. Zucchini, thyme, cream-cheese and salmon-trout parceled up to seal in the flavours. I heated the weber for ten minutes with the lid on, and then put the parcels onto the braai-sheet. Cooking time was 10minutes for the 2 cm thick fillets.

Striving for a limited pallet of colours to take on the trip to Vietnam has been derailed. the 8 colours (Ultramarine blue, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Red, Cadmium yellow light, Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson, Pthalo Veridian, Cadmium yellow deep) being increased with Raw Sienna, Cobalt Blue which I seem to use a bunch, as well as specific colours given the tropical colours I expect to find in the waters of Vietnam. Cobalt Turquoise, Phtalo Blue Green, Cerulean Blue and Bright Yellow. I will probably take either the bright yellow, or cadmium yellow deep and ditch the Phtalo Veidian. Naples yellow is also an option depending on how the suitcase packs. 

My small cabin bag doesn’t take the pad of linen canvases which I have in addition to the tube of six larger canvas sheets that I hope to paint. My idea still being to paint in acrylic while travelling which I will stretch when I get home and finish with oil paint. Hence, I’m using the larger suitcase with the temptation to add addition stuff, but I know this has to be carried onto trains, ferry’s planes and through streets of varying surfaces.

A study, based on a painting by Joaquín Sorolla, using acrylics and permanent marker on 350gram paper showed that I will need clamps to keep the edges from curling while the painting dries.
Cuisine to be savored, or as a diabetic, to understand the impossible cravings of an addict. Perhaps Le Maquis is one of those places where magic happens, and rather than a door, you pass through a portal. Time suspended. Senses heightened. Fragrance woven in mystery.

Chef Remy was understanding at our late arrival and we were soon in discussion about the flavours of the amuse-bouche, which set the trend for an evening of scrumptious food. The coconut bite with coffee, an attentive detail. 

Prince happily settled with Hachico, Jenny and Clive in the apartment. Chaos of the first hours, muted into constant play mode. Clive’s enthusiastic engagement in the studio, a small elephant painting heading to its new home in New Zealand.

Bags packed and last sorting for the trip.

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

‘Paddle Steamer’

Oil on canvas 60cmx90cm

Harbour Town Adventure

Water. Complex. Demanding. Knuckles smearing paint. Paddle steamer at sunset across the Estuary from the studio.

The paintings at the new Avo Pomme exhibition perfectly capturing the emerging growth from the ashes of the fires. Delicate life, exquisite in its simplicity. Bernice’s canapés, once again, transcending the paintings.

That fragment of a view between sweat drops on my glasses, hurtling through the forest in carefree abandon. A yellow flower against blue skies and the view out to the Heads across the black earth.

Clare made ‘Pizza’ for diabetics, with brinjal slices, which looked and tasted amazing. Fillet with a sauce that oozed the fragrances of the mysterious East. Mint, lime, chilly, ginger and garlic. A taste of the weeks ahead in Vietnam? Sutherland Pinot Noir that taste of summer.

Studio busy on the holiday week, my grumpiness sort of manageable. The painting for the antique wooden boat poster heading to its new home.

Brinjal pizza

RECIPE BY Rosalin Mconie



PREP TIME 30 minutes

COOKING TIME 35 minutes


For the brinjal base

• 2 brinjals

• 1 T salt

• 3 T olive oil

For the sauce

• 2 cloves garlic

• 1 T olive oil

• 1 can chopped tomato

• 1 T fresh parsley, chopped

• 1 t dried oregano

• 1/2 t salt

For the topping

• 30 g fresh basil

• 300 g mozzarella cheese


Cut the aubergine lengthways into 2cm thick slices and sprinkle with salt. Lay the aubergine on paper towel to absorb the excess moisture and leave for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180°C

For the tomato base, heat 1T olive oil and gently sauté 2 cloves of chopped garlic.

Add a can of chopped tomatoes, 1T freshly chopped parsley, 1t oregano and ½ t salt. Simmer until the sauce has thickened.

Dry off the aubergines and make sure to remove any excess salt. Place on a roasting tray and brush with olive oil. Roast in the oven for 25 minutes.

The aubergines should be cooked through but not too soft and mushy. All ovens work differently so check your aubergines after 15minutes and then every 5minutes there-after.

Once the aubergines are done, spread a tablespoon of tomato base on each slice, add layers of basil leaves and finish with grated mozzarella.

Place them in rectangular, shallow ovenproof dish then slide it under a hot grill until the cheese has melted and begins to crisp. Serve immediately.

Asian-style fillet roast on rice noodles

RECIPE BY Abigail Donnelly



DIETARY CONSIDERATIONS Dairy free Fat conscious


• 1 T sunflower oil

• 500 g beef fillet

• 190 ml soya sauce

• 2 garlic cloves, crushed

• 1 x 5 cm piece of ginger, grated

• 1 t fish sauce

• 2 T brown sugar

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• 1 spring onion, sliced

• fresh peas, for serving

• 1 small cucumber, sliced

For the garnish

• a couple of sprigs of fresh coriander

• a couple of sprigs of mint


Cover 250 g rice noodles with boiling water and set aside for 15 minutes.

Mix 1 finely chopped seeded red chilli, the juice of 1 lime and 3 T rice vinegar.

Drain the noodles and pour over the dressing.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Heat 1 T sunflower oil over a high heat.

Seal 500 g beef fillet, remove and allow to rest.

To the same pan, add ¾ cup soya sauce, 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 x 5 cm ginger, grated, 1 finely chopped red chilli, 1 t fish sauce, 2 T brown sugar, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook until the sugar dissolves.

Return the fillet to the pan and coat with the sauce. Finish in the oven. R

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures


Wild Garden

Oil on canvas 50cmx90cm

Reflections on the water at first light. Ripples of colour drawing you into their depths. Reminiscent of the blinding light and vibrant colours in the paintings of Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida. Bold minimalist strokes of energy. My painting of the paddle boat, a metronome of the day past the studio, stilted. Waiting for the reflections to bring it to life?

After the rain, mud to squelch through. Gardens green, flowers preening in the sunshine. Forests vibrating with life. Burnt areas cleared. Openness that breaths.

That jolt of panic, as the tyre grips soft sand, throwing the bicycle towards the drop-off, and feet loosing touch with the pedals as I get my balance wrong over a bump in the road. Faster, further, lungs heaving, legs complaining. More fun, more often.

Weather variable enough that a fire is welcome, the comfort of an extra rug. Laughter, chardonnay days.