We’ve now moved into a two-bedroom apartment with a decent view in the Sathorn district of Bangkok. So for just shy of a month, we’ll have our base camp in one of the city’s many, many unnamed neighborhoods where you’ll find just about everything needed for day-to-day existence within reasonable walking distance – including a 7-11, several tiny restaurants, a couple of laundry shops, and one really good massage place. Both Charlotte and I enjoyed a 90-minute Thai massage there and we were both impressed. Next to it is a yoga studio that I’ll have to check out someday.
The apartment is a 15-minute leisurely stroll along busy Rama IV Road to Lumpini Park where I spent about an hour near the clocktower (seen near the bottom on the right of the photo) this afternoon. I found a spot to practice Qigong at under a tree full of a dozen or so noisy crows. I managed to focus to the point where I was completely unbothered by the crowing and let the rowdy birds do their thing while I did mine. Will be back tomorrow morning to meet with a lady that teaches Tai Chi at the same location.
Nowhere near as large as New York’s majestic Central Park, Lumpini is still big enough to provide sanctuary from Bangkok’s insane intensity. Not sure if the trees can absorb and convert the surrounding pollution into clean air, but it at least seems easier to breathe when I’m there.
Pleasantly surprised by how it’s not as devastatingly hot as we expected it to be. Da Nang at night was a comfortably cool 24C and it’s not that much warmer in Bangkok, at least not a few hours after sundown. I barely broke out in a sweat, even when in direct sunlight, during my 14k walk earlier today. I suppose this is the new normal for November. My earliest memories of Bangkok, just about now but in the fall of 1988, are otherwise somewhat clouded, but there were surely monsoon rains and probably a general haze from those backpacking days of yesteryear…
More images from Bangkok here.
Shot this view of “My Khe Beach” late last night from the rooftop pool of Haian Hotel, just a few floors above our corner room in Da Nang. I think corner hotel rooms are preferable for the obvious reason that they offer a less claustrophobic room experience. As we book most of our hotel nights through Charlotte’s site ASR, the “Special Request” field you get during the reservation process is usually ignored. Why? Well, while many hotels are increasingly dependent on third-party booking companies, most will also readily admit how profit margin punishing this trend is and how they wish more guest booked directly at their website. Most hotels suck at SEO, so I don’t see how their Google ranking will improve and ever topple the leading reservation sites.
I’ve never really felt that I wasn’t fairly treated when arriving as an Agoda, Booking or Hotels guest. On the other hand, over the years, I’ve never seen any of my “Special Requests” fulfilled. Not once. If I was a hotelier, I’d probably ignore them too and instead prioritize folks that add more to their bottom line through a direct booking. I’ll therefore politely ask for a corner room or at least one with a nice view, as we’re checking in. Folks working in a reception seem not to distinguish much between guests, regardless of reservation method used.
Da Nang turned out to be just what we needed after a monthlong stay in the rice fields. Our two days by the beach have gotten us thinking about maybe spending our last month in Asia right here in Da Nang where there’s decent surfing and plenty of dining options and apartments to rent, no more than a couple of blocks behind the beautifully palm tree-lined My Khe Beach.
Da Nang seems to be booming right now with construction sites all over the place. Along the shoreline, it looks a little like Oahu’s Waikiki or from what I’ve seen of Rio’s Copacabana. The beach is long and wide like in Venice but with very few visitors. I’m guessing that many, if not the majority, of Asians that are touristing in Da Nang, aren’t swim savvy. So the beach might be of limited interest. At least when compred to the abundance of shopping, seafood dining and sightseeing available here.
Here’s the short film from our visit with Sue, Cat, Marie, Julian, Nori, Lola, India and the rest of the gang at the NGO Vietnam Pets and Vets outside of Hoi An, here in Central Vietnam. Publishing this video today coincides perfectly with our daughter Elle’s 19th birthday. After all, it’s thanks to her genuine interest and compassion for all living creatures that we’re eating healthier and staying clear of the meat and poultry industries’ disasterous behavior towards animals and the planet. While Elle’s celebrating with friends on Bali, we’ve now moved out of the countryside and installed ourselves in a nice corner room at a beachfront hotel in Da Nang.
This is by far Hoi An’s best taco joint. We became frequent guests there after falling in love with their fish tacos, which taste superbly, possibly thanks to all the ingredients being homemade from scratch.
We’ve been eating a ton of Vietnamese food here. But truth be told, as Pescatarians, it ain’t been as exciting as I’d hoped. There currently aren’t a whole lot of stand-ins for Bún Thịt Nướng (grilled pork with rice noodles), Bo Luc Lac (Vietnamese shaking beef) or Phở Ga (chicken noodle soup). There are a couple of really good vegetarian and even a fully vegan restaurant in town. But that’s in town and we live about 15 minutes outside of town – which at night means riding in the midst of local daredevil scooter drivers. So, we’ve been eating fish tacos about twice a week. They serve a decent, no-name tequila there, too.
This is Julian, one of two pigs we met the other day at an energetically operated combo rescue and shelter organization called Vietnam Animal, Aid and Rescue This is Julian, one of two friendly pigs Charlotte and I met the other day at Vietnam Animal, Aid and Rescue which is housed in a tiny village outside of Hoi An. The other rescued pig is Lola and I’m currently working on a short film with both of the pigs and a few other rescued animals we had the pleasure of meeting, along with founder Cat and her co-workers Marie and Sue during our short visit there the other day.
Experiences like these are wonderful and really add a silver lining to our stay here. It also fuels our enthusiasm for maintaining a 90% plant-based diet and to veto consumption of beef, pork, and poultry. I have yet to come to terms with my inexcusable seafood habit, but I’m working on it.
After a couple of days with an intense downpour, the sun is again shining. The rice paddies are soaked and brimming with fresh rainwater and as the level has risen so much, the landscape surrounding the flooded fields is now beautifully reflected in the drenched paddies. We took a long walk last night after dinner. The cacophonous soundtrack orchestrated by attention-seeking crickets and frogs made the scenery seem even more wondrous.
It’s Sunday morning and like most every other morning after Charlotte’s run and my Qigong/Yoga session, yet before the day officially begins, one of us makes a big fruit salad and two glasses of Vietnamese coffee. Drip, drip, drop.
The staple ingredient for our breakfast is watermelon and even after so many years of visiting Asia, I still don’t understand why watermelon tastes so much more watermelon here than any variant I’ve ever eaten in Sweden. Maybe watermelons in Asia are just naturally sweeter? Or, perhaps it’s because we’re subconsciously adding a level of exoticism to the eating experience? Who knows.
With any luck, we’ll be visiting a rescued pig today.
Like most red-blooded Americans that haven’t been completely brainwashed from having Fox News or CNN as their only source of information, I’m skeptical about every word a politician exudes. You have to be. It’s not so much about distrust as it is understanding the nature of the game.
Politics, at least in a functioning democracy, is essentially about delegating representatives with an ability and will to compromise and find common ground in all kinds of important societal issues that need to be legislated and regulated in order for the wheels to keep turning. And in order for politicians to “succeed” and keep everything running smoothly, it’s key they are willing to make trade-offs and, yes, even break promises along the way. I totally appreciate this as the very nature of politics – hence me having a healthy dose of skepticism when listening to political rhetoric.
Unfortunately, not much of the above seems to be happening these days. Not exactly sure why, though. But it’s likely symptomatic of our strange era where many desperatly grab for the easiest answer, even when the questions are extraordinarily complicated and therefore often inconveniently hard to comprehend – for laymen and politicians alike.
I totally get why so many people tune out and feel disenfranchised by much of what’s going on in today’s political arena. Regardless of whether you believe this way or that on any given subject or current political event, the fact is that most national politicians are definitely not doing what they should be doing, i.e. negotiating, finding common ground and processing legislation that benefits both the citizens that voted for them in the first place and the delicate planet we all share.
We’re not celebrating Halloween this year. Not that it’s usually much of a happening in Sweden. But I will never forget our cool Halloween celebration whilst living in Santa Monica back in 2014 which was where and when the above shot was taken at a super-spooky corner house a few blocks away from us.
Last night we were at The Hub, a co-working place just down the road from our home in An My Village. Three local Hoi An entrepreneurs, two Vietnamese and one Brittish woman presented themselves and shared their business experiences with about 25 (mostly) expats. The first one up was Emma, who together with her Vietnamese husband Jack, founded and operates Jack’s Cat Café, a combo charity organization, coffee shop and animal shelter, entirely dedicated to the well-being of cats. Listening to all of the challenges the couple has overcome made for a very inspiring talk. And to hear Emma explain why they still need to keep a relatively low profile because of an overshadowing threat from the illegal cat meat trade, was shocking. Avoiding disingenuous caretakers and attracting genuine foster homes for their cats seems to involve a rigorous vetting process.
Though I’d heard of how there are restaurants here that offer dog on the menu, I was completely ignorant about the cat meat trade. I did know about its existence in China, where, if it crawls, walks, flies or swims, it’s considered both edible and often desirable. This is particularly true when myths about how specific bodily organs or fluids contain aphrodisiac or health-curing properties are afloat.
I love animals. Always have. Most are fascinating creatures and I’ve had the privilege to experience some of the planet’s most majestic species up close, including great white sharks, wild lions, and Arctic moose.
Though I definitely don’t support torturous treatment of animals in China or anywhere else, I do understand that geographically, we place widely disparate emotional values on domesticated animals – usually depending on our cultural perspective. While listening to last night’s first presentation of the cat charity/café and the horrendous meat trade the founder is crusading against, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the evening’s collective had eaten beef, pork or chicken that very same day – and the likelihood that also those poor animals had lived and died in circumstances probably not too dissimilar from the fate of creatures caught in the cat and dog meat trade.
This is quintessentially why my family and I stopped supporting the meat and poultry industries several years ago.
Why would or should we care less about how a pig is (mis) treated than you would care about the welfare of a dog? Why do we rank the planet’s animals so differently? Does a cat inherently have more worth than a chicken? I’m obviously all for supporting the fight against animal cruelty. But there’s a level of hypocrisy that clearly needs to be discussed.
The picture above? Snail eggs on on a rice field near our home in An My Village, Hoi An, Vietnam.
The strangest part of adjusting to slow life here in rural Vietnam, especially when coming from a country like Sweden – where new stuff is readily and rapidly adopted – is paying with paper money again.
Not only do I barely recognize any of the Swedish bills or coins currently in circulation, the vast majority of stores I shop at back in Sweden don’t even take anything but digital payment these days. Which adds a scary level of Orwellian surveillance potential.
Once a week I visit our local village bank here where two ATMs have been placed side by side in a claustrophobically small booth on a busy street corner. I watch during each visit – with some trepidation – as my lime green Mastercard gets sucked lickety-split into the belly of one of the grimy cash machines. Superstitiously, I alternately use the left and right ATM, just to even out my odds, should one day my card be swallowed permanently by either.
After choosing English as my preferred language, punching in my code and agreeing to the transaction fee for a withdrawal equaling roughly USD$100, twenty colorful and neatly stacked 100.000 Dong bills are ejected. Unlike my wife Charlotte, I never request a receipt and just shove the wad of cash into my right back pocket before stepping back out onto the street again.
While two million Dong sounds like a lot of money, I mean, it’s hard not to be just a little hypnotized by all those zeroes, to put the currency into an everyday perspective, one hundred thousand Vietnamese Dong is actually only about USD$4:30. Or, in our weak Swedish currency, about 42 kronor.
A large watermelon at our local market cost approximately 25.000 Dong and at Bamboo Chicken on Cua Dai Street, a generous portion of tasty Pho soup or stir-fried veggies with noodles (or rice) with a choice of Saigon beer or non-alcoholic beverage, will set us back 40.000 Dong. Prices vary widely depending on where you’re at and more importantly, the proximity you have to Hoi An’s main tourist attractions. I’ve paid almost as much here for a bottle of beer as in Sweden.
Very few shops, restaurants or minimarts accept card payment in Hoi An and I’d likely be laughed at if I even showed my credit card to any of the often unapologetically brash women working the stalls at our local vegetable and fruit market.
Though Vietnam no longer has coins in circulation, paper cash is still the undisputed king on the payment pyramid. Digital emoluments like Swish and Apple Pay are nothing but science fiction here. Which is kinda cool. With the risk of sounding like a nostalgic curmudgeon, I think paying in cash feels more tangible and adds an old school level of privacy to my choice of consumption. Though my phone’s is certainly being tracked and my location sold to the highest advertising bidder, at least nobody will know for sure that I ordered that extra beer or if the restauranteur pocketed my wrinkled Dong to pay for his daughter’s biweekly piano lessons.
When in Rome…I make Vietnamese drip coffee here in Hoi An at a couple of times a day. I find it an excellent way to lure my inner Zen into daily routines while we’re living here.
Where back in Swedenland my caffeine fix was often blasphemously met with bleak instant coffee, here, it takes a little tenacity before a glass of java is ready for you to sip on. Not that it isn’t worth the wait. The Vietnamese have some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted. On contraire, slow drip coffee is a great reminder of how good things come to those who wait. Shot this little film earlier today with the Fuji XT-3 using 85mm f1.2 and 23mm f1.4 prime lenses and a GoPro Hero 7 Black. Edited the footage in Final Cut Pro X
From yesterday’s assignment for Charlotte’s popular Swedish hotel web site hotelladdict.se While probably not the most eco-friendly adventure I’ve been on, oh boy, was it fun driving and riding the M72 (Dnepr/Ural) – a vehicle with a long-ass production life, from the original BMW R71 (1938) to current day Chinese (PRC) version: Chang Jiang CJ750. Read more about these incredible beasts on Hoi An Sidecar Tours – the tour operator’s website.
Earliter today, Charlotte noticed a memory in one of her social channel news feeds. It was from way back in 2011 when we were still producing travel guides for Swedish daily newspapers like Aftonbladet and Allt om Resor. We created and delivered a ton of them over the course of about a decade. Up until the editors we worked with either quit or become unbearable to work with. Koh Samui was the first island I ever visited in Thailand back in 1988 and it will always have a special place in my heart. But it still wouldn’t be my first choice if I were to one day move permanently to an island. Should that ever happen, I’d pick Maui without the least bit of hesitation. Interestingly, the link to our guide seems still to be active.
Some of my images from Maui are available for your viewing pleasure right here.
I was close to being run over last night on my way to dinner. No, I wasn’t drunk, high on shrooms or wearing clogs. I was simply walking along the sidewalk towards Bamboo, our favorite eatery here in Hoi An. Had my focus just slipped a little, or, if I’d misstepped ever-so slightly… BOOM!…I would of been a pile of aged dead meat on the street. “Good to see you didn’t end up as roadkill”, one buddy pointed out.
Though initially intended for pedestrians, most sidewalks here are in reality multifunctional spaces used for every imaginable/unimaginable purpose – most commonly as haphazard parking spots for scooters. Dodging and zigzagging in between mopeds, bicycles and other rigid, often rusty yet sharp obstacles is simply part the urban fidelity, I suppose.
Just before finally making it to the restaurant, I had this wonderful epiphany. I realized that it was likely the chaos and idiosyncrasies that make me feel so tuned-in to life whenever I’m in South East Asia. Admittedly, it can take a while before I calm down and stop cursing about the constant onslaught of death-defying road warriors that make crossing a street like Russian roulette, or, how even walking on a sidewalk feels like being trapped within a pinball machine.
Where countries in most of northern Europe stubbornly strive for a glossy, picture-perfect society, in developing countries like Vietnam, for most folks, there’s really no option other than to accept, embrace and integrate one’s life as seamlessly as possible within the imperfect, the chaotic and dysfunctional. And though we’re here as privileged guests and can easily pay our way to sidestep most discomforts (I could have taken a taxi to Bamboo last night), it’s truly humbling to take part of at least a wafer thin slice of everyday life here – and be reminded of how sterile and boring it would be without life’s wonderfully liberating imperfections.
The pictoresque Tam Quan Chua Ba Mu Chinese Temple with its reflecting pond in the ancient city of Hoi An, Vietnam. Shot yesterday evening with the Fuji XT3 and Fujinon XF 16mm F1.4 prime lens. The temple reminded me of visits to Phnom Phenh and Siem Reap in Cambodia.
From yesterday’s visit to our local Cam An Beach which is considered one of the best in Vietnam. Being in the ocean and letting wave after wave wash over me has been something I’ve loved doing ever since I was a kid. They aren’t big enough for surfing, at least not right now. But in a couple of weeks, monsoon season kicks in for real and so maybe then there’ll be some decent waves to ride.
Here’s a tidy collection of my surf shots.
For the past two weeks, I’ve been eating a large, ripe avocado and a big carrot for lunch. That’s it. This “diet”, in combination with getting at least 5 km of walking or biking exercise a day, is helping me slowly burn off the flab around my waist. It also feels excellent to not eat so much. I’m working on it, but I still can’t shake off the coffee addiction or a cold draft beer I usually have for dinner. It’s that first alluring sip of ale that’s so hard to withstand.
Went to a yoga class at a nearby gym this past Friday. Not only was I the only foreign dude in the room, but I was also at least twice as old as any of the women there. And since the Vietnamese instructor didn’t speak a word of English, I had to look towards the others a lot of the time just to follow along – which might have come across as being a little creepy. Hopefully, I’m just projecting such thoughts.
Aside from a bit too much chanting at the beginning of the hour-long class, it was a really good workout. As she didn’t shy away from coming to my mat and tweaking my poses, afterward, I gave the instructor extra kudos for being so hands-on. Not sure if she understood me, though.
Photo Credit: Charlotte Raboff
Be it S’pore, Delhi or Bangkok, whenever and wherever I visit Asia, it’s usually bustling and busy. Well, maybe not so much Singapore. But definitely Bangkok and Delhi.
Here in the wild, wild east where water buffalo graze freely on monsoon drenched rice paddies and locals in pointy hats smile at you when you pass them on your bike, yet just a few klicks from the relatively crowded and buzzing Hoi An’s city center, it’s very calm and very quiet.
Tonight though, at a distance, I can hear what must be a fairly large karaoke party. And even if I only know (so far) two words in Vietnamese (hello and thank you), in my ears, the singing sounds like someone’s slowly slaughtering one of them water buffaloes. It sounds more like a shrieking animal – and not something a human could/would/should vocalize. It’s absolutely horrible and to boot, this is the second loud karaoke party we’ve been through this week.
2019 has been a good year for me. Perhaps not a record-breaker (we’re still waiting for our annual report to be finalized), but good regardless. I’ve been busy up until the last week before we left. Which, I suppose, is why I’m feeling restless here in these tranquil, jungly environs. Believe me, that in itself is frustrating. I so want to embrace this relaxing experience. And I know if I do allow myself some time off, it’ll be beneficial on multiple levels. But since so much of my life and identity has been defined by my ability to generate a constant flow of output in a range of creative disciplines, I feel a little lost without having a clear mission or a solid project to take on and challenge myself with. So, yesterday, as at least something to do with myself, I set out to shoot some footage of our neighborhood – which resulted in the above 60-second film.
In all honesty, deep down, in my heart of hearts, I actually know what I need to do creatively to find my way back and on to a new set of tracks. But I’m putting it off. Why? Because I’m terrified of what may come of it. Or, worse, if nothing comes of it. Stay tuned…
No torrential rain today, mostly blue skies and beautiful cloud formations.Living right on the edge of Hoi An town has its perks. It’s quiet most of the time, especially at night. We only hear toads (or frogs) and crickets and the occasional dog bark. I don’t know if I’ve lived this rural since spending time with my grandparents who were farmers in rural Sweden.
This morning, after Yoga + Qigong and fruit and coffee breakfast, I rode a bike on a long stretch of concrete road that runs through two large rice fields. Much of the area looks like it’s a patches of loosely interconnected swamps.
At the far end of the path I was riding on, I came across a memorial plaque about and a tomb for a Japanese tradesman that had spent considerable time in Hoi An during the middle of the 15th century. Someone had laid out fresh fruit on the foot end of the tomb and on the other side were two young Vietnamese men fishing.
I’m in a contemplative mode right now. It’s a sobering, existential and confusing phase all at once. Been through it several times before throughout my life. Just not recently. And certainly not at this age.
Met this gentle, soft spoken lady during the monthly full moon lantern festival here in Hoi An a couple of nights ago. She looked anciently tired and disappointed that all I wanted to do was take her picture and not buy one of the lanterns she was carrying on a tray.
Now and then the bright yellow moon revealed itself from behind a thin veil of clouds and lit up the riverbanks where locals swarmed around new arrivals, desperately trying to persuade them to climb into a boat or, at the very least, buy a lantern.
Once a centuries old “good-luck” tradition more akin to superstition than buddhism, today I’m not sure how much of a culturally rooted event the lantern festival actually is.
On the way back to our homestay, we saw shopkeepers burn trash outside their stores (for good luck, someone told us) , and heaps of feverishly excited tourists step into rickety riverboats to celebrate the occasion by floating colorful paper lanterns on the unusually busy Thu Bon River.
Watching a long row of thick smoke bellowing up from the burning trashcans and seeing hundreds of paper lanterns placed ever-so gently into the river – all the while a forest of selfie sticks swayed erattically back and forth on the overlooking bridge, made for an interesting scene, to say the least.
I think a lot about food. I always have. I guess you could even say I’m obsessed. And not just because I love to cook, either. Of all the kinds of food I’m obssessed with, avocados are definitely top tier. Not only do I love the shapes they come in, the earthy hues of green, brown and yellow are favorites on my palette. And then there’s the unique tenderness, aroma and taste of a ripe avocado. Unbeatable! So happy when I discovered that the fruit is now readily available at our local market here in Vietnam.
At one point in my life, I worked professionally as a short-order cook and absolutely loved the process of prepping and composing meals. Though often stressful, there’s so much imagination and inventiveness involved in kitchen work. I’ve always seen making food as yet another way to express myself creatively.
When we decided to switch from being omnivores to seafood eating herbivores about four years ago, I never experienced the transition as being particularly hard. There were/are some foods I miss, though; Nathan’s hot dogs, thick slices of Hungarian salami topped with Dijon on lightly toasted sourdough or rye bread, southern-fried chicken with dripping bbq sauce at the Venice branch of Baby Blues BBQ and the crispy, honey-glazed bacon you can order at any IHOP or Denny’s, to name a few.
In addition to being bad for the planet and farm animals, I figure I have already eaten more than a lion’s share of meats in my lifetime. And since really tasty vegetarian alternatives are on a rise, the challenge has been far from unsurmountable. Also, as someone with a mild case of rheumatic arthritis, what I eat today is unquestionably as important as practicing Yoga/Qigong, getting a good night’s sleep and reducing stress is.
Still, I have cravings…
I used to think our body knew what was good for us to a greater extent than our minds did – and definitely better than anything our tastebuds tried to trick us into believing we needed.
So with that in mind, I concluded that most cravings originated from our body covertly brainwashing us into thinking it demanded a specific type of food to help produce something really important, like, you know, a protein or vitamin crucial to improving our health or making necessary repairs. That theory was probably more relevant when my younger self’s metabolism was firing on all cylinders.
Nowadays, I find that the older I get, the more I get the jones for things that aren’t at all conducive to the lifestyle I am trying hard to live by – especially considering my aforementioned condition. In fact, the stuff I desire to indulge in today is likely the diametrical opposite of what my body needs; pizza, pasta, and other processed foods – none of which contain much nutrition and probably take more energy to break down and flush out than they leave behind. But if someone placed a family-sized pizza in front of me right now, I’d dig in right away and probably not stop until the last piece of crust was sent down my throat.
Now that we’ve left Sweden and spent just over a full week in Asia, I can feel how the swelling around my waistline is slowly deflating. Here in Vietnam, there are few temptations to lure my weak character. Charlotte found a nearby deli the other day and that might be a go-to place when the surge for something deliciously detrimental becomes uncontrollable. But for now, we’re only eating healthy, local food with a big fruit plate in the mornings and then a light lunch, like avocado or some more fruit, after which we have an early veggie and tofu dinner with rice or noodles.
I’d say there’s about a 12-hour timespan between dinner and breakfast where we don’t eat anything – giving our bodies sufficient time to absorb whatever we’ve eaten last and above all, give our digestive system time to rest.
It seems logical that if we constantly stuff our faces and bellies with hard-to-digest food during the hours we’re awake, our digestive system and whole being will suffer from all the overtime.
Consequentially, if everything we eat is instead plant-based, i.e. easily digested and relatively simple to exploit nourishment from, our bodies will thank us by converting it into fuel and other stuff it needs to countermeasure bacterial infections, inflammations and an array of other bad shit that comes our way.