Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

Last lighttrack up in the studio. Only a bit of blood involved. Waiting for the new table top for the trestle and the studio will be ready for the Knysna Literary Festival ‘Delicious Word Journey’. Thrilled that the studio will host Sam Cowen for the evening.

Tree trimmed to form a ‘green cloud’ outside the patio. A few stray bits need to be taken down and we can almost start looking at crafting the tree shape.

Quick trip down to Kommetjie. Prince not impressed with the wind noise, or that of passing aircraft. The waves on the beach an added terror. His walks sporadic affairs between bouts of panic. He was much happier to play in Alan’s garden.

We did manage a walk across the park to the Green Room for cappuccino. The Green Room is simply idyllic. A place you want to roll up, put in your pocket and take out every time you want a coffee in a tucked away, laid back, surfers paradise. They have their own craft beer that I was silly enough not to taste, or at least bring away with me. The service is that blend of focused personalized attention and casual forgetfulness. Perfect.

At the other end of the spectrum, lunch at the Steenberg Bistro. Fortunately I wasn’t driving so I could stare at the impressive Norval Foundation Art Gallery nearing completion at the entrance to Steenberg. Fantasmagorical and something to dream about for my paintings.

The Bistro offered crafted dishes of near perfection. Stunningly visual, with the complex flavours we have become used to in Vietnamese food. Delicious. The estate wines on the wine list were hideously expensive, which I don’t understand. Why they should be priced any differently to the tasting room which is part of the same building is both annoying and mystifying.

Battery in my iPhone needed replacing, which was efficiently done at WeFix. Did meant that I managed to loose the data in my diabetic management App. Fortunately the blood glucose tester memory stored the key data, without any notes. Hopefully enough for my visit to the doctor to establish whether I can come off my medication and manage the diabetes through my life

Diary of an Adventure

Harbour Town Adventures

A New Year, full of promise and mystery.

Madelaine’s, or petit Madelaine, those delicious, delicate, golden crumbed, cookies, local to the Lorraine region of France, that have launched a thousand memories. With a classy, literary reputation, having served as Proust’s muse in his famous Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu) Hence, perfect for New Year’s Day. Best served, as fresh as possible.

Of course, they needed to be diabetic-sensitive. Fortunately, the one Banting sponge cake recipe worked well, resulting in light, fluffy Madelaine’s. Excellent with bubbles, red wine or coffee.

Wind howling, after storms overnight blessed us with New Year rain. Prince bouncing off the walls at being confined.

Fabulous ride through the Forest at first light. The Forest quiet after the rain. The Jeep track a perfect surface, so you can go that touch quicker and be a tad more daring into the corners. Legs, hammered after the steep climb, fading before I could get into any real trouble. Even did the tree blockage removal thing.

Not impressed with needing to deal with an new complication to my diabetes. ‘Dawn phenomenon’, or Somogyi Effect. High morning blood sugars from the liver dumping glucose during the night. It does make exercising early much easier as I’m not running into the low blood sugar zone I was having to watch earlier, but trying to identify what is causing it is an added nuisance. (Could be poor sleeping given the holiday noise levels and a one year old Border Collie puppy going nuts as a result) Frustrating my goal of eliminating the diabetic meds, through lifestyle management and playing havoc with my eye sight.

‘Works on Paper’, my January challenge, to paint the everyday of Knysna, using the illustration technique I developed in Vietnam.

‘Woodmill Lane Artist’, Acrylic and marker pen on 350gram paper, the first such painting. A familiar sight in Knysna, he stands daily in Woodmill Lane with his brushes, pallet of paint and canvases that never seem to progress.

‘St George’s’, the beautiful old small Anglican Church in Knysna, built with sandstone that turns golden in the morning and afternoon light. Mystical on mornings when the mist swirls down from the forests.

Madelaine mix

ingredients

125g butter

125g cream cheese

2 Tablespoons of xylitol

5 eggs

1Tablespoon lemon juice

1t vanilla essence

1 3/4 cups almond flour

1t baking powder

METHOD (easy)

Mix the butter and cream cheese together

In a separate bowl whisk the eggs until fluffy

Add the rest of the ingredients to the butter and cream cheese mix and gently mix together

Add the eggs and mix, without over mixing

Cover and store overnight in the fridge

-Bake at 180 C for 8 minutes. Turn the pan and bake for 5minutes. Leave to rest in the pan for 2 minutes before turning out onto a tea towel

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

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

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

Saigon

Back where our adventure started, but different. Embedded amongst the chaos of the inner city, District 1, rather than the gentle District 7, with its Bentleys and French delicatessens. Here, in our apartment for the next ten days, we are surrounded by tattoo parlours, hooters and spots where drug use is tolerated.

Stairs wind up at the rear of a ‘coffee’ shop, between gaps left in the concrete pillars made for children. Each step a different size to the previous one. Landings between flights, broom cupboards and outdoor yards. Shoes are be left at the door! 

Our studio apartment, on the top floor has a balcony garden with a gardenia adding its magic. A tiny shower room. Sort of kitchen. Bed on the loft landing, behind bamboo screens. A table for painting and a comfortable sitting area (adult size chairs and sofa). No wardrobe.

A quick, directed excursion in the humidity to find artist supplies took us past a laundry, a local market and what looked like a good food place. With assistance, we found the right ally and the fabulous Taipoz art shop. South Korean and Japanese professional grade paint to supplement what I have left. The wide range available ensuring that paint will not be a limitation in my time left here.

Phui, our new favourite spot. Iced beer (beer mug with an iceberg in it, any remaining space filled with beer), excellent Hanoi spring rolls and a fiery salad of prawns, cuttlefish and bamboo. Couldn’t do the pigeon embryo and testicles!

One of the horrors of traveling is finding, and the state of, toilets. Particularly at short notice when your system rebels at something you ate that it doesn’t agree with, or is simply a diabetic mess. Made worse with street food and the humidity in the tropics. In this regard, Vietnam should be top of everyone’s travel list, as the toilet and bathroom facilities are clean, plentiful and accessible. Phew! 

Diary of an Adventure

Vietnam Adventures

‘Lone Traveler’, a woman traveling alone through Hoi An, Vietnam. The safety of a corner in a coffee shop. Light playing across her contemplative emotions. Searching for that perfect line. Inspiration from the stunning Japanese painting ‘four seasons’, copies of which were in one of the galleries.

Fortunately, the painting doesn’t reflect the gazillion changes to the composition, or the battle waged during the paintings progress. Paint under my fingernails (no gloves needed with acrylics), the only indication of its intensity.

(A note from me, Terry). I’ve often watched Jan paint in his studio, but its only for a minute or two while we chat about domestic logistics. Being in the hotel room with him while we were hemmed in with the typhoon is an an entirely different experience. The energy in the air changed so much I couldn’t focus on my reading. The concentration, intensity and finer-dashing was exhausting viewing. I held my breath for minutes until he changed colour or finger before dabbing madly again. With different colours on his different fingers his hands moved like old fashioned typists who knew the qwerty keyboard blindfolded. How does he remember which colour is on which finger? It was mesmerising. And when he comes up for air, his eyes refocus to reorientate to a world with a wife in it. Where does he go?

The entertaining aspect is how he settles down or disentangles himself from a wet canvas, a palette with colours escaped from their indentations – to the sides, underneath, his knees, fingers, floor, chair, wrist and occasionally his clothes. The dance to get everything wiped clean is as frenetic as the painting itself. And then we both deserve a beer, and I can breathe again.  



Scooter crazy traffic is expected. What has been surprising are the number of electric scooters around the place. School kids using them as commuter vehicles as they doe t need licenses, but even amongst the regular petrol driven engines, there are a heap of electric scooters. Quick and silent, and for a pedestrian, quite unnerving. Their high-powered LED lights the only indication of their approach.

Sun out, with a sprinkling of rain. Humidity turning our damp clothing, after days of rain, soggy. As the streets are cleaned following the receding water levels, the shops open and we can access new parts of the town. Mia coffee for that last iced-americano before we head out to the airport and the adventure moves to Saigon.