Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Give blood, save a life

Sweetened condensed milk in a tin. Yum! In Australia, at around $3 a can, it's considered more a luxury than an everyday item. Its primary purpose is as an ingredient in desserts (and also for fat spoilt kids whose moron parents let them suck it out of a tube like they're drinking skim milk!).

In Vietnam, at less than $1 per can, it's used to sweeten Vietnamese coffee (Ca Phe Sua) at street stalls and coffee shops throughout the country. Given many Vietnamese households are without refrigeration, particularly in rural areas, sweetened canned milk is also used as an alternative to fresh milk as it's cheaper and has a longer shelf life.

So I shouldn't have been surprised when I was given a bag of sweetened condensed milk cans as a thank you present at a blood donation centre in Ho Chi Minh City this morning. Afterall, in many Australian Red Cross Blood Donation Centres donors are given a free meal.

But what I found disturbing when I got back to my office, feeling no worse for having shed 250mls of my blood, was that I also found an envelope containing 50,000VND amongst the cans (along with two blisters of B12 vitamin tablets which I was encouraged to take by the nurse to make me feel better!).

I immediately felt sick, like I had done something immoral. This can't be right. I went there to do good and I left with a bag of cans and an envelope of money that I don't deserve (let alone need). I felt ashamed.

Even though (for me) it was a small amount of money, I'm not quite sure why I had such a strong reaction to being paid for my blood.

In many countries paying blood donors is viewed as an acceptable way of encouraging people to donate. In Vietnam where horrific motorcycle accidents are an everyday occurence it is essential that healthy people are encouraged to donate blood, so this can only be a good thing...right?

But a scene from this morning's donation drive has played over and over in my mind, adding to my sense of discomfort. 

At the centre there was a young, skinny guy, barely 18 years old, who had the unkempt appearance of someone who struggles to get by from one day to the next. He went into the blood donation van after me with a big smile on his face. What I didn't realise at the time was that, for him, this was pay day.

In Australia, we donate blood because it's the right thing to do and, lets face it, for the feel good factor. Here, where poverty is a sad reality, blood donation centres offer a harsh insight into the facts of life in Vietnam.

No matter where you live in the world, donating blood is essential. I'll continue to donate while I live in Vietnam, but next time I'm going to make sure my goodie bag goes to someone who really needs it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

{Saigon Snacks} Bun Cha Ha Noi!

It's one year today since we moved from Hanoi to Saigon, so I thought it only fitting that we celebrate the anniversary with a lunchtime reminder of our time up north.

Turn right down the alley next to the Pho 2000 store on Le Thanh Ton Street in District 1 and you'll find Bun Cha Ha Noi  - one of a handful of restaurants in Saigon totally devoted to serving the delicious northern dish. (See my previous post for a description of Bun Cha).

If you're not the adventurous type, and tend to steer away from roaside street eats (as we often do for fear of making our 4-years-olds sick!), the grungy appearance of this 2-storey restaurant may put you off. (And if the look of the restaurant doesn't make you head back the way you came, the pile of trash bags neatly stashed out front just might!) 

In fact, as we walked down the alley Rob's first comment to me was "Are you serious?".

Given Georgia and Mackenzie have been begging me to take them to a real Bun Cha restaurant since we left Hanoi there was no way I was going to turn back.

I must admit, I have eaten lunch at Bun Cha Ha Noi a few times with my colleagues so it was not like I dragged my family here without recommendation!

Owned by a friendly family from Hanoi, this is the real deal Bun Cha (not too sweet like the southerners tend to make it). They also specialise in crunchy Nem (deep fried spring rolls) and deep fried battered prawns. Each dish is 27,000 VND (that's about US$1.31 for a meal!).

Bun Cha Ha Noi - 26/1 Le Thanh Ton Street, District 1

Bun Cha Ha Noi


If you don't have a stomach of steel I suggest you avoid the greens!

Bun Cha Ha Noi's busy kitchen (that's the owner reading the newspaper!)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

{Saigon School Moments} School's out for Summer!

We follow the American school calendar in Saigon, so summer is here and school's officially over for the year! 8 weeks of pain for the parents, but the kids are pleased.

Georgia and Mackenzie graduated today from Dynotots 3 at the Australian International School in Saigon (a year of schooling equivalent to pre-pre-Prep in Oz, if there is such a thing!). They are both excited about moving up to the "big" class of Dynotots 4 after the summer break.

Sadly, at the end of each school year we often have to say goodbye to expat friends who are moving on to other countries or back home. This time it's goodbye to Summer and her family who are off to a new posting in Switzerland and Kryztof and his family who are moving home to Poland. We'll miss you!

Last day of school!
Just for comparison, here's the link to their first day of the school year photo!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Swimming in Saigon

One of the joys of living in a city that is hot all-year-round is that Georgia and Mackenzie don't have to take a break from their swimming lessons.

After a year of swimming lessons in Saigon, and at only 4 years old, both can already swim better than me (not really that hard!).

After graduating from Rubba Duckies in March where Mr Tony took them from little girls who wouldn't put their heads under water to swimming to the bottom of the pool, they now have a weekly swim coach.

Here's a few snaps of the girls with coach Ms Ros.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

And...we're back!

Ok, so it’s official. I have been VERY slack.

Rob asked me this evening whether I had abandoned my blog. In short ... NO! It has just been so long since I blogged that I keep thinking of all the potential backdated posts that I should do/or should have done ... blah, blah, blah! Yep, typical Libran-style procrastination!

Anyway, so here’s a text and pictorial summary of life in Vietnam since the last post almost three months ago!

The biggest news, and essentially the sticky circumstances that forced me to stop blogging for a short while, was our “elopement” to Malaysia in April.

We invited only a small group of friends to escape with us to Langkawi in Malaysia for a holiday to celebrate our "non-wedding" on 28 April.

Had I blogged in the lead up to April, when life seemed to revolve around the “nuptials”, I would surely have given the game away to the unsuspecting friends and family back home.

And afterwards…well, I guess I just felt a combination of guilt (for those that missed out on what was essentially a bloody good holiday) and lazy!

So, Team Somerville is now officially legal. I’ll do some follow up posts (promise!) on the legalities of marrying in Asia, specifically Malaysia vs Vietnam soon, but suffice to say it was all good fun (despite the fallout!)

A bubbly party in all senses of the word!

Woohoo, we're legal!
Other than a quick trip home to Oz for another wedding on Mother’s Day weekend (and of course to try to smooth the ruffled feathers of those back home not invited to our non-event!) it has been life as normal.

We had a mini break in May with a weekend trip to the beachside town of Mui Ne (5 hours north by train) so Rob could compete in a triathalon. Lots of AIS school families went for the weekend, so it was a lot of fun (especially for those of us not competing!). Train travel is fun (our second time to Mui Ne) but the toilets, regardless of the cabin class, are seriously gross!

We recently tested the skills of a local plastic surgeon (private clinic of course!) when Georgia had an accident at school. Ran into a pole and split her forehead open. A very brave little lady and the scar looks more like a scratch. A permanent reminder of our time in Saigon!

It’s our almost one-year anniversary in the south of Vietnam, and the girls and I still haven’t been back to Hanoi. We’re planning a trip back to the north during the July school holidays when Nanny Somerville comes for a visit. I’m also hoping to take them to Nha Trang (which we did when we were newbies back in April 2009) and to Quy Nhon - a non-touristy beach area further north of Nha Trang.

As for other travel plans, we’re off to Danang/Hoi An for a long weekend from this Friday with our mates The Moggys. Looking forward to a fun weekend away from the rain!

Georgia and Mackenzie in Mui Ne
Triathalon Bob!