Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

‘Pushing the Oars’

Oil on canvas 120cmx40cm

Water. Hills shrouded in cloud and welcome rain falling. Heart stopping phone call about water cascading out of the apartment. An open tap on the patio following a day of of water outages due to pipe burst in Town.

Not the best news after earlier finding a leak in the painting storage area. Fortunately wine boxes the only casualty. Especially with the delivery of a few large canvases on the floor and not in the storage racks.

‘Pushing the oars’. Sampans on the busy waters of the Mekong Delta, searching for the slowest part of the river flow. The brown waters not what I wanted to dominate the painting, and while acknowledging the strength of the women who ply the eight foot oars of the boats, it was the delicate butterflies of the Delta the feeling I wanted.

Sweet potato gratin, with ribs on the Weber and a zucchini and pesto salad (Taste magazine), with a touch of Pinot on a beautiful evening.

Beach. Prince the reluctant follower, skirting the scary waves, before deciding that his mobs-kennel was the safest place. Progress of sorts.

Cast off Terry’s arm and she is starting to try out her new wing. Still going around in circles a bit as it’s a tad weak after the six weeks in plaster. The ‘transact’ a reminder not to do too much.

Very special to have Lesa and Alan visiting for a few days.

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

Cold fingers, despite higher than usual blood sugars after a Christmas lunch of pâté de compagne and Il de Pain bread, with trifle as a dessert.

Black, mud-stained feet from playing with Prince at low tide. The noise of the waves still too much for him.

Vietnamese flavours for the Christmas Eve dinner. Fresh spring rolls with pork and prawns. Duck breast with Asian salad. Fish simmered in ginger and caramel sauce. My spring rolls, defined as ‘clumsy’. The wooded Chardonnay the best wine for the various flavours in the Vietnamese food. Minimizing the sugar used in the caramel sauce did mean that there was none of the ‘stickiness’ that we had in the meal inHanoi, but it didn’t kick my sugar levels out of kilter either. Another three weeks before Terry’s cast comes off!

The end of a quiet day, with the street outside the studio busy with holiday traffic and the alcohol fueled chatter of people walking home. Oodles of pink flesh on display after a perfect, sun filled day.

‘Crumpled’, my portrait of a 92 year old women in Hoi An, Vietnam. The simplicity I was striving for being lost in the contours and crumpledness of her face. The complexity of the years driving the painting? Raw Sienna, permanent magenta, Ultramarine blue and Naples Yellow with Alizarin crimson the key colours. I did include touches of Cerulean and Cobalt blue.

Became part of the ‘mechanical’ mountain bike family, managing to trash the crank assembly on the way up Phantom Pass. Did find another reason to be ‘flat-pedal’ cyclist, in that wearing trail shoes you can jog with your bicycle. However, I was glad it wasn’t too far before Coreta rescued me.

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

Boating Pond

It isn’t the cleverest idea to burn ones fingers, and an even worse idea if you are a finger painter! Testing the edges of my limited ability in the kitchen, with Terry still out of action for another month with her broken wrist.

Fortunately, it’s only a couple on my right hand, which are more of a nuisance on the bicycle than in the studio. The singed fingers a result of not realizing how hot a pot from the oven stays after you have finished using it.

Ginger, garlic, chili (It needs a special warning about the lingering effects on your hands that burns your eyes after you have removed the pips) red onion, cabbage, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, fish-oil, salt, pepper, sugar for the ‘banana flower’ salad, pork stuffed calamari and galangal carmalised fish. Sugar and flower free sponge cake and creme anglaise for the trifle.

Testing Vietnamese recipes, using local ingredients that are diabetic sensitive, for the recipe book we are planning. The influence of Vietnam, with a hint of Christmas!

Managed the chopping stuff without blood. My leg, however, a bit worse off from coming into contact with the painting racks and my arm from playing with wild-child. Somehow, managed to get blood and paint spread all over the place.

On the easel I have an old women from Hoi An in Vietnam. A very traditional looking women that is challenging as I strive for simplicity. Her weather beaten skin, full of harsh reality, however it’s the twinkle in her eyes that remain the essence of the painting.

Spectacular morning light shining on the waters of the estuary. Gazillion reflections from the visiting yachts as we headed out up Phantom as the sun was waking up.

Messing About with Paint

Review of what to pack for painting Travel

In the five weeks, I painted 20 pictures on canvas, linen and paper.

Of the limited pallet of 11 colours (Ultramarine blue, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Red, Cadmium yellow light, Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium yellow deep, Cobalt Blue, Naples Yellow, Phtalo Blue Green and Cerulean Blue) I hardly used the Cadmium red and I would leave the Burnt Umber out next time.

I found the dark mixture of Burnt Umber and Ultramarine blue disappointing. I did need the additional tube of white paint that I didn’t take along, and both the Cadmium yellow deep and Naples yellow ran short as I did not anticipate the huge amount of yellow colour everywhere in Vietnam.

Phtalo Blue Green, Alizarin Crimson and Naples Yellow made a wonderful rich grey color that contrasted fabulously with the Cadmium Yellow.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam – Terry’s Random, Accidental Observations

We’re sipping iced coffee amongst the orchids at the airport. The world of international travelers wafts around us and our internal landscapes have shifted to all that awaits us – dinners, friends, work, and busy schedules, such as they are, in Knysna. In short, reality.

Behind us, five weeks of anonymity, if, as westerners, we can be anonymous in an Asian world. Language alone encapsulated us and kept us apart. Our engagement only by choice, through smiles and nods.

On Sunday we drank our jasmine tea to the sound of Church bells, the Catholic steeple on the horizon of our neighborhood. Walking distance to an area outside the boundaries of our limited city map is Cholon, the Chinese district. Along the road is an all encompassing temple that includes all religions. Everywhere in between, coffee is the common culture. And the constant traffic is a background white-noise.

Opposite our trendy air conditioned coffee shop, an old man stands bare chested in the heat. Children play badminton on the sidewalk of this major arterial into the city outside the coffin-seller’s shopfront, while he naps on a bench the size of a coffee table at the entrance – hoping to catch the 41 degree breeze.

In our apartment, we take another lukewarm shower with the go-to brand of body wash in all the establishments we’ve stayed in: Lifebuoy. For him, and for her. 

Our two day trip to the Mekong Delta was an excursion, once more, into commercial tourism. Fortunately we were a group of six, and all easy going. Our guide took charge of us and we boarded and disembarked boats and busses as directed. The clouds were heavy, but didn’t rain on us. The grey-brown water was worthy of a Kipling description, and the palms and mangroves on the banks, beyond the stilt houses, felt heavy with silence. The American movies come to life. 

We were conducted through rice-wafer baking and coconut-candy processing, rice-paper and rice noodle making, and the charms of snake wine, scorpion wine, and grilled frog,snake and rat over the BBQ. Our lunch, fortunately, of river fish, chicken and broth. 

The city of Vinh Long was modern and trendy with wide streets and boulevards. Funky coffee shops played contemporary-rap through their speakers.

When our tour guide realised our group was fit enough for a change to the itinerary, he arranged a cycle around one of the island villages to visit a temple. Lush, humid, muddy – but friendly! Children calling ‘Hello!’ And high-five-ing us. Women doing their washing on the water’s edge. 

The floating market was grey and drab, with more tourist boats than merchants. Their living conditions basic, both in the boats and in the stilt-shacks along the river banks. It felt intrusive to be viewing and photographing them. But they were trading with smaller boats that came to buy the wholesale fruit and veg to sell on to their local neighborhood markets. 

It was exciting to recognize our streets and local coffee shops and minimarts when our minibus entered Saigon again. And it was with a sense of belonging that we settled into our regular seats, at our regular table and placed our regular order without even asking! They knew us so well there, that for me, it was an emotional farewell today. 

According to our tour guide, Ho Chi Minh City is a political name. For him, ‘Saigon City’ is written in his heart. 

And so it is that we say: Thank You, Saigon.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

HCM

Our time in Vietnam rapidly shrinking. Particularly, time for painting, as even acrylic paints need time to harden before the canvases are rolled to travel. With the Mekong Delta taking a couple of days and the last day needed to pack and hand back the apartment, I’m down to a handful of painting days. Afternoon thunderstorms reduce the light levels so that even with the good light in the apartment, by mid afternoon it’s too dark for my lousy eyes. I want to get the larger canvases I brought painted, as I have carried them around for almost a month!

The flowers sellers in Hoi An old town, one of the subjects on my painting list that I wanted to do on the larger canvas. The hotel room in Hoi An too small to work in. Here, I have a table which is also a tad small but workable, if messy. The last of the cadmium yellow deep squeezed from the tube and a last gasp from the Naples yellow.

A new dinner adventure: hot pot of Lau ga la giang all in Vietnamese and a picture menu. Essentially- a piece of chicken, a spicy broth, banana flowers and other unknown greens all cooked over a little table-top stove. A frustrating process.

Our corner restaurant has proved to be an excellent spot to sit and capture candid street photo’s. Particularly interesting portraits to add to my painting list.

Squeezing through the tiny alleys of the market, and trashing display piles of plastic containers in turning to avoid an impatient Granny. Shopping with gesture and the remarkable power of smartphone photos and translate, searching for elusive kitchen bits and cashew nuts.

Lightning, flashing across the sky. The instantaneous transformation of those on scooters into ponchos. Rain turning the streets into knee deep rivers. A drowned rat seemingly the only casualty of the ferocity of the storm as restaurants, shops and commuters carry on as normal.

In one of the corner gardens, a small yellow iris flower. Delicate. Perfect.

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam – Terry’s Accidental Reflections

We haven’t seen stars for five weeks, since we left home. Yesterday we woke to a blue sky and clear sunshine for the first time since arriving in Vietnam. It seemed to make the walk into town to the Ben Thanh market shorter, the air less weighed down. 

At the main entrance, under the clock tower, I met with five other tourists and The Vietnamese Cookery Centre’s Ms Mie, for a tour of the market and a morning of cooking. This time I learned to make a fresh spring roll using a mustard leaf, braised chicken in a caramel and fish sauce, and the day-long process of making pho.

Singeing onions, shallots and fresh ginger over the open gas flame was also a technique new to me. This adds a smoky flavour – but also stimulates the sugars in the onions, adding sweetness to the bone broth. That’s apart from the cup of sugar that is added to the stock. Or the sugar used in the final seasoning when serving the pho.

Our time in Ho Chi Minh City has been domestic – a time of laundry, market shopping, cooking experiments in the apartment, morning and afternoon iced-coffee breaks, painting and reading. 

The measure of a good holiday, for me, is how much reading I manage. It’s been a good holiday so far – I’m deep into my 11th novel. And that’s apart from several recipe books and tour guides.

I love that we have sat on our terraces here in Vietnam (both in Hanoi and now HCMC), with doors that open to the living area of the apartment, and below us are street sounds and a thriving business. So similar to being at home, above the studio.

Strange the things one misses when leaving one place for another – here in Saigon I’m missing the earthy scent of the incense burning inside and outside almost every shop or home or restaurant in Hoi An. Tributes to ancestors and gods. In Saigon, the incense is noticeable for its absence.

Hot, bothered and bewildered – this is the state of tourists passing our regular table at our local eatery. Everyday, new visitors arrive, looking dazed. We were no different on our first day. Now, when we walk down the street, parking attendants smile greetings to us, our chefs and waitrons wave at us when we walk past, and the staff in the art -supply shop welcome us as regulars!

Downstairs in our coffee-shop entrance to our apartment stairs, the regular patrons nod hello. And each barista has his or her own playlist. My favourite is the young woman who plays her classical piano repertoire in the morning.

So many other playlists in other places loop around and around playing Karen Carpenter, John Denver and Glen Campbell.

For those who are wondering, this has ended up as my Accidental Holiday Reading List (Accidental as some of the books I’ve picked up are from where travelers before me left them behind for me to find!)

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

The Woman in the Orient Express by Lyndsay Jayne Ashford

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

Barefoot Summer by Carolyn Brown

The Stars are Fire by Amit Shreve

The Man in the Barn by Fiona McShane

Watermelon by Marian Keyes

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

(audio book)

Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
(I started reading Saigon Wife by Colin Falconer but abandoned it)
(I am also part way through My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante on audible, and listen when circumstances allow).
Foodie reading has included:

Authentic Recipes from Vietnam by Trieu Thi Choi and Marcel Isaak

Real Vietnamese Cooking by Tracey Lister and Andreas Pohl

Vietnamese Street Food by Tracey Lister and Andreas Phol

Rice and Baguette a History of Food in Vietnam by Vu Hong Lien

Diary of an Adventure, Messing About with Paint

Bay of Dragons

Bay of DragonsAcrylic on canvas 150cmx70cm 

Vinh Ha Long, means “Bay of the Descending Dragon”.

The legend says that during the old time when the country was newly formed, Vietnamese had to fight against fierce invaders coming from the North through the sea. Feeling sorry for the country, The Jade Emperor sent the Mother Dragon and her children descending on earth to help ancient Vietnamese people defend the country.

While the mighty enemies were attacking the main land, The Mother Dragon and her children suddenly appeared and incinerated the enemies with their divine fire and giant emeralds. The emeralds from the dragon’s mouth were scattered around the battlefield on the sea and formed an invincible defensive wall that left enemy battleship fleet sinking. Thanks to the dragons, the Northern invaders were finally swept away and the peace finally came back the South East Asian country once again. After thousands of years, the wall of emerald turned into island and islets of different sizes and shapes.

After the battle, The Mother Dragon and her children didn’t come back to the heaven, but stayed in the mortal world and turned into human form and help people planting, cropping, raising cattle, reclaiming, and expanding the country.

To remember the help of Mother Dragon and her children, the people live there from generation to generation name the bay where the Mother Dragon descended “Ha Long or Halong” and the bay where her children descended “Bai Tu Long”, which means “Thanks to the Dragon’s children”. This legend is also a part of the general belief that Vietnamese people’s has Dragon’s origins.

http://www.halongbay.info/news/the-legend-of-halong-bay.html

Detail

Diary of an Adventure

Traveling diabetic #18

Hi,

Jan here.

HCM

Terry has figured out that Pho, without noodles, is on the menu as ‘Chen them’ and when ordered with ‘Tai’, it comes with small pieces of beef. The only problem being that they serve it in a ramekin type dish, which means that I’m not only perched on a tiny chair at a low table, but trying to eat soup from what feels like a thimble! Etiquette being that you do not lift the Pho dish from the table. It gets messy.

Our default salad of bamboo stalk with sea food has been removed from the menu. Shredded chicken with cabbage (not that daw cabbage strip is anything to get excited about) the next best option. Or rather it would be if they didn’t drown it in a dressing loaded with sugar. 

Back to cashew nuts.

Blood sugars

High 10.7 mmol/L
Low 4.5 mmol/L

Diary of an Adventure

Terry’s Vietnam – Accidental tourists and a seemingly dodgy address

‘The Cooks Shrine’

29cmx21cm Acrylic on 300 gram paper

I love walking through the fresh street market, especially outside the bakery, where the scent of fresh bread is rich with lime and coriander, lemongrass and spring onion from the bamboo baskets of the women on the curb. A fragrant start to the morning, even in the rain.

On our day of departure from Hoi An, there was the prettiest monkeys wedding outside and bonsai shadows on our coffee table. It made me realise that in three weeks, I’ve only needed my sunglasses once!

During the typhoon, when the waters reached the entrance to our hotel, I woke up in the night wondering if I shouldn’t have gone to bed in my clothes – in case we were evacuated in the middle of the night, a precaution I had taken during the Knysna fires. In the end it wasn’t necessary but a similar sense of urgency (emergency ?) haunted me.

And now we’re settled in our apartment in Ho Chi Minh City with my dry goods shopping unpacked – the fish sauce and rice paper, soy sauce and rice wine to add to the shelf of green tea and sugar. All basics in a Vietnamese home kitchen. I’ll shop the fresh market tomorrow.

Today we still have menu options to explore at our new favourite street corner eatery(read English speaking waitress). We lunched there yesterday on bamboo and cuttlefish salad (tangy and delish). Breakfast this morning was Pho – beef noodle broth and bamboo shoots. As my perpetually hungry husband says ‘a hell of a lot effort for very little return’. The kindergarten sized chairs and tables don’t help, but the food is fresh, and tasty. 

It was with huge trepidation that I waited for our Airbnb host to meet us outside the designated coffee shop yesterday. Apart from the busy traffic circle, the coffee shop was filled with men dressed mostly in black, smoking. The signage on the building advertised Little Bangkok on one floor, and a VD Clinic on another.

A few minutes past eleven our young landlady led us up 67 stairs scented alternatively with, cigarette smoke and green tea. In places the stairwell was so low that even my shoulders caught the ceiling. I think I held my breath all the way to the red door-mat on the third floor.

Our apartment is compact and comfortable, with a decadent couch for reading and lounging on, a fridge stocked with ice, and a double volume living area open to a loft-balconied-bedroom. And we have a breezy rooftop balcony way above the traffic. Jan chose well. 

Plus, there’s lots of natural light for our traveling Painterman