Hoi An Lantern Festival

The Lantern Lady

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.

avocado

Culinary obsessions: Avocado

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.

Character vs Temptation

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.

Yoga Qigong

It’s All A Mixtape, Anyway

The combination of comfortable humidity (80%), balmy temperature (29C/84F) during an hour of intense Qigong + Yoga (YoQi) was a great way to start this Monday.

After practicing Yoga and Qigong for a couple of years now, I’ve come to see how the two complement each other wonderfully. These two ancient practices have so much in common! While Yoga is more physically demanding, Qigong teaches a higher level of focus on slower, controlled movements and breathing.

Both provide incredibly valuable insights into how even the seemingly simplest poses, movements and breathing exercises can both calm the mind and improve health.

It’s all a mixtape, anyway…

There is no way that folks from China and India didn’t ever cross paths and compare notes, exchange poses, remedies and integrate their experiences. There are just too many similarities between Chinese medicine and traditional Indian medicine to deny this. Both aim to promote health and enhance the quality of life with therapeutic strategies and holistic treatment based on the fundamental elements of life. As opposed to much of western medicine, both focus on the individual, not the symptoms.

While Yoga and Qigong are recognized as two totally different disciplines from two wildly different – yet bordering –  countries and cultures, I’ve found that both can be combined to add even more wealth and health to body and mind.

An My Village Vietnam

Our new home in An My Village in Vietnam

We moved into our new place today at An My Village, just outside of central Hoi An in Vietnam. It’s a brand new, light blue, three story house, adorned with beautiful tile designs and tasteful decorations, good quality furniture and what is arguably the most important fitting of them all, a really comfortable king size bed.

There’s a pool in the backyard and several interconnected rice paddies just beyond the property’s rear fence. Water buffaloes graze nearby and there’s a tiny outdoor restaurant next door to us. The house lies a mere 10 minute walk to a traditional Vietnamese market where we bought a bag full of fruit and veggies this afternoon after our beach excursion.

Speaking of which, it only took us about 15 minutes to ride our bikes (provided by the house owner) to An Bang Beach. We had lunch there at a place called Salt and ate fried rice with seafood and vegetables and kept cool from a breeze that swept up from the sea. So good to have left the hustle and bustle of the city.


Nuts for Noodles

As we are intending to remain here for a spell, it’s unavoidably going to take some time for us to scour our way through the thicket of tourist trappings of Hoi An. We have no qualms about contributing to the local tourist economy, especially since most stuff typically cost less here than in Thailand and certainly Sweden or the US. But prices can still fluctuate considerably depending on where you spend your Dong.

For example, a run-of-the-mill Vietnamese drip coffee can cost as little as 25k (SEK 10/US$1) and as much as 65k (SEK 28US$2.80), which is still fairly inexpensive, but for a country like Vietnam where the same amount will buy you lunch or dinner, seems inexcusably inflated.

 The footage above is from Bamboo Chicken – a simple lunch place we’ve eaten at a couple of times on our way to or from the mobile phone store where we bought and will eventually refill our local SIM cards.

A sumptuous noodle and veggie lunch like today’s set us back SEK 15 or about US$1.50. Surprisingly, this also covered a choice of beverages from a lengthy drink list of tasty beverages, including home-brewed beer, a Screwdriver, a Mojito and a Mango Smoothie. It was a little early for a Mojito, but the beer tied the meal together just nicely.

Thu Bon River Hoi An Vietnam

Bridge Over Thu Bon River

Our view standing on one of the city’s beautiful bridges last night, overlooking the Thu Bon River, which gently flows between the islands that make up Hoi An. The scene reminded of Venice, Italy, sans the lifejackets.

grilled frogs

Grilled Vertebrate

As a pescatarian, I’m not exactly certain if it would be okay or not to munch on the above grilled frogs (toads?) I saw in passing at a market here in Hoi An this afternoon. Perhaps it would even be within reason to stuff our bellies with turtle or tortoise meat, just as long as if the gentle creepers didn’t belong to the species’ endangered kind.

Apparently, there’s an ongoing debate about amphibians which, according to Merriam-Webster, is a “cold-blooded vertebrate”, just like fish. 
No plans to begin eating frogs or turtles just yet. But I’m going to give the whole pescetarianism some serious thought. Here in Vietnam, it’s not at all difficult to find healthy, vegetarian food and the fish we’ve had so far hasn’t been particularly noteworthy.


Smoggy Coffee Break

From earlier today during a short break at a café located on a corner of what must be the old town’s busiest intersection. As insipid as the lady that served me was, she nonetheless managed to serve me a heavenly brew of Vietnamese coffee. So there I sat, watching, sipping and relaxing as hundreds of honking scooters, mopeds and tiny trucks hurried to their destinations as if their lives depended on them getting there at almost any cost.

I’ve not been to a city, town or village in Asia that doesn’t have bustling traffic. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. Traffic in the old quarters of Luang Prabang – in northern Laos – weren’t nearly as busy as here. Then again, it’s been a few years since my last visit and chances are that things have changed there too.

We’ve finally found a place that we like. It’s on the outskirts of Hoi An among rice fields and not too far from a small river. The house is brand new but nicely designed and beautifully decorated. There’s a large terrace on the top floor and small pool in the backyard. Moving in on Sunday. Can’t wait. City life is taxing. Especially on the old lungs.

Dong Millionaire

I’m a Dong Millionaire

Today, after watching a whopping two million Dong slowly slide out from the innards of an ATM somewhere here in Hoi An, I realized that I’ve probably not been a millionaire since Italy switched from Lire to Euro back in January of 1999. With 100.000 Vietnamese Dong being equal to approximately $4 or SEK40, roughly what I payed for Charlotte’s and my combined lunch today (including a smoothie each), it indeed feels like we’re quite wealthy right now. This despite the Swedish krona’s continuing descent against most A-list currencies.

I wish someone would please email me and es-plain why the Swedish krona is so damn weak while the Danish krona is so strong? Is Lego really doing so friggin’ well?

Dong dinner

Imagine what it must be like for the Swiss and Americans to vacation here. I mean, even i-talians and Spaniards must find it wonderfully affordable in Vietnam. Not to mention za Germans.
 Tonight’s dinner at a simple neighborhood eatery, where the food was not only superb, the friendly staff and speedy service, together with a local beer for USD$0.20/SEK 0.20/glass, made for a most pleasurable dining experience, topping out at roughly what a luke-warm cappuccino costs back home.

It’s going to take some time getting used to our new currency and where to get the most bang for our Dong. There, I said it.

hoi an old town

Golden Hour in Hoi An

From “golden hour” in the old town of Hoi An during yesterday’s gorgeous sunset. Aside from a couple of pre-monsoon thunderstorms in Bangkok, the weather has been very pleasant here in South East Asia. Not nearly as hot as when I was here in August.

Getting mixed meteorological prognosis about what, at a bare minimum, to expect when Vietnam’s rainy season kicks off next month. We’ve read about and been advised to prepare for serious flooding. So the most pertinent question is, where should we stay here to avoid being drenched and soaked? Hopefully we’ll be less clueless by the end of the day.

Hoi An Vietnam

Hoi An, Vietnam

We’ve now arrived in Hoi An, Vietnam. We flew in from Bangkok to the coastal city of Da Nang, where, incidentally, the very first American combat troops landed almost 55 years ago – at the onset of the American War, as the Vietnamese call the conflict.

We had arranged to be picked up at the airport and driven to our homestay in Cam Nam, an island and part of Hoi An.

I’m writing this just a few hundred meters away from the UNESCO listed ancient town in Hoi An which we walked to shortly after unpacking our stuff and where we eventually found a riverside bodega that served crispy veggie springrolls.

Hoi An’s lies along the Thu Bon river and was once an important trading post and its ancient town dates back to the 15th century and consists of roughly 1100 wooden buildings of Chinese and Japanese architectural influence. Today, the old shophouses are where local businesses sell clothes, shoes, porcelain, and, of course, souvenirs. There’s a bunch of tailors, too.

The dilemma with towns and places that get World Heritage status is that they tend to become more popular than what their infrastructure can absorb. As gorgeous as all the old, colorful wooden shophouses are here, the intense traffic, consisting of an endless stream of bicycle rickshaws and low-octane fueled scooters, distracts from the area’s remarkable beauty. Not to mention recurring forests of selfie sticks being haphazardly waved around by visitors – mostly from Vietnam’s neighboring country up north.

Despite having penned and contributed photographs and video for several dozen destination guides and travel stories about similarly visit-worthy places, surprisingly, I’m still often taken aback by how many others I have to share my experiences with.

Am I a cat or a dog person? I don’t know. Probably both. At some point as a child, we had both a dog (Coco) and a cat (Cesar) and I remember vividly how the cat’s tail one day got stuck in the spokes of a slowly turning bicycle wheel and had to be amputated at a local veterinarian. This was while living on Alfred and Willoughby in West Hollywood back in the mid 1970s.

It’s been just over a month since I was last in Bangkok after my Qigong course up north in Chiang Mai. Always feels good to be back in Thailand where as soon as you’ve passed through the austere immigration officers, more or less everyone’s default facial expression is a gentle smile.

Our Thai Airways flight arrived early this morning at 5:00 am after what seemed to take considerably less than the scheduled 10.5 hours of flight time. Thankfully, there was very little turbulens.

In between our vegetarian meals and a slew of meaty podcasts, I saw a couple of special effects packed Marvel flicks. I also watched the excellent biopic “Hitchcock” with Sir Anthony Hopkins as the director extraordinaire and his understated wife Alma played with tremendous fervor by Dame Helen Mirren. The film takes place during pre-production and filming of Hitchcock’s classic horror film Psycho, which I will now have to re-watch. I don’t look at horror films as often as I used to. Just like much of today’s list music, to me, the horror genre’s appeal has metamorphosed into something pathetically clichéd – although there are a few notable exceptions.

After a relatively smooth immigration and bagage claim process, we booked a Grab to drive us into town (which took less than 30 minutes!) and our Aparthotel in the Sukhumvit area.

We’re here for a few days to hopefully rid ourselves of jetlag and acclimatize to the region’s humidity and temperature before heading even further east to Vietnam.

Surprisingly, it’s not that hot here right now. At least not when the sun is hidden by rain-heavy clouds hovering over the city. The temperature was a pleasant 25C earlier this afternoon as I strolled down Thong Lo (Soi 55) on my way to a barber and then a massage.

After my shave, I randomly picked a massage shop that looked acceptably reputable, payed for a 90 minute massage and walked up a steep flight of stairs to a small, air-conditioned room with a raised massage table and two flimsy white plastic clothes hangers hanging on the wall to the left. On the sheet clad massage table was a towel and a square plastic packet containing a pair of ridiculously tiny black nylon unisex underwear.

I must of fallen asleep a half dozen times during my session, waking abruptly up shortly after each from the sound of my own snoring and a quiet giggle from the women gently kneading my body. She was both a thorough and skillful therapist but didn’t speak more than a few words of English. So I couldn’t be bothered to even try to explain to her that I was severely jet-lagged. She looked a little like a sumo wrestler; round, sturdy and completely neckless. At some point in between dozing in and out of sleep, I wondered how many shops more or less like this one there can be in Bangkok. Must be in the hundreds, if not thousands.


Corgi in the Garden

Put together this from snippets shot during Sunday’s visit to what can only be characterized as a dog zoo called “Corgi in the Garden”. After paying a USD$10 entrance fee, you get to spend an hour socializing with Blossom, Buttercup, Baby Corn and 10 other Corgis and 30 Instagram addicted tweens in a café. Never got to see a garden, so “Corgis in a Café” would have been a more befitting name.

Writting from a diner at Souvannaphoum Airport where we’ve just had breakfast. While we were provided with proper forks, for what I can only assume is a security related rationale, the knives were child-sized and made of clear plastic. A normal dinner knife isn’t usually very sharp, so, used intensly and with purpose, the fork could arguably be the more damaging of the two utensils, albeit not as threatening conceptually. I mean, muggers don’t typically rob their victims with a fork. Unless perhaps it’s in one of the US southern states where a pitchfork could conceivably be a weapon of choice. Speaking of the South, I can sincerely recommend the latest episode of 1619, the New York Times’ excellent Saturday edition from the team behind my favorite news podcast, The Daily. Listen to it here.

Oysters

Acquired taste: Oysters

Tonight, Charlotte and I enjoyed dinner at a small Japanese place on Thong Lor run by an elderly man from Japan. We got there fairly early, just in time for happy oyster hour.

We ordered 5 oysters, three fresh and two grilled with all the required condiments. While I’ve appreciated the taste, texture and smell of oysters – and the often intense taste of the sea they muster – for as long as I can remember (admittedly a shrinking timeframe), Charlotte, on the other hand, has not ever had any pleasant experiences when eating them.

Tonight she tried one and after a few brave swirls in her mouth, the slimy sea creature was discreetly ejected into her napkin. Fortunately, there was plenty of other deliciousness on the menu. Neither of us left the place hungry nor thirsty.

Caterpiller Daphnis nerii oleander hawk moth

Green Bangkok Bug

According to Wikipedia, this little creature is a Daphnis nerii, the oleander hawk-moth or army green moth of the family Sphingidae. It was described by Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 10th edition of Systema Naturae. Almost stepped onto the little guy while walking down a sidewalk last night here in Bangkok. Up close it looked plasticy yet somehow menacing. Apparently, the florescent green color and what look like big scary bug eyes are actually just patterns which have evolved over time as an elaborate visual defense system to scare off potential predators. For us, the color alone helped us avoid squashing the critter.

Say No to Plastic Bags

Say No to Hyperbolic Hypocrisy

Went for a 14k walk yesterday in Downtown Bangkok. Got caught in the rain at one point, but it turned out to be just a drizzle. Saw the sign above and couldn’t resist.

I wonder what it’s going to take, politically, economically or catastrophically, for actual change to take place in regards to the planet’s health. I have serious doubts that saying no to plastic bags posted on a sign outside one of Asia’s largest department store chains will contribute to reversing the effects of us all warming up the planet. To me, that’s just PR savvy, hyperbolic hypocrisy. As Charlotte so poignantly pointed out earlier today, the sign should of read, “Say No To Plastic Products”. But that would of been eskewing the real issues and in essence meant financial harakiri.

siamese cat

Back in Bangkok

Back in Old Siam. I met this cat in the slums of Khlong Toei a few years ago. I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but I was likely there to photograph for the charity Hang on Hangers. In a totally different life, in the mid-1980s, I had a cat, a male Norwegian forest feline that I called Mr. Humphrey. I shared “Humph” with a woman that lived with me for a while and when that relationship eventually ended, she got custody of our kitty cat.

Am I a cat or a dog person? I don’t know. Probably both. At some point as a child, we had both a dog (Coco) and a cat (Cesar) and I remember vividly how the cat’s tail one day got stuck in the spokes of a slowly turning bicycle wheel and had to be amputated at a local veterinarian’s clinic. This was while living on Alfred and Willoughby in West Hollywood back in the mid-1970s.

It’s been just over a month since I was last in Bangkok after my Qigong course in Chiang Mai up in northern Thaialnd. Always feels good to be back where, as soon as you’ve passed through the austere immigration officers, more or less everyone’s default facial expression is a gentle smile.

Our Thai Airways flight arrived early this morning at 5:00 am after what felt considerably less than the announced 10.5 hours of flight time. Thankfully, there was very little turbulens. In between our vegetarian meals and a slew of meaty podcasts, I saw a couple of FX- packed Marvel flicks. I also watched the excellent biopic “Hitchcock” with Sir Anthony Hopkins as the director extraordinaire and his understated wife Alma played with tremendous fervor by Dame Helen Mirren. The film takes place during pre-production and filming of Hitchcock’s classic horror film Psycho, which I will now have to re-watch. I don’t watch horror films as often as I used to. Just like much of today’s list music, to me, the horror genre’s appeal has metamorphosed into something pathetically clichéd – although there are a few notable exceptions.

After a relatively smooth immigration and bagage claim process, we booked a Grab to drive us into town (which took less than 30 minutes!) and our Aparthotel in the Sukhumvit area.

We’re here for a few days to hopefully rid ourselves of jetlag and acclimatize to the region’s humidity and temperature before heading even further east to Vietnam. Surprisingly, it’s not that hot here right now. At least not when the sun is hidden by rain-heavy clouds hovering over the city. The temperature was a pleasant 25C earlier this afternoon as I strolled down Thong Lo (Soi 55) on my way to a barber and then a massage.

After my shave, I randomly picked a massage shop that looked acceptably reputable, payed for a 90 minute massage and walked up a steep flight of stairs to a small, air-conditioned room with a raised massage table and two flimsy white plastic clothes hangers hanging on the wall to the left. On the sheet clad massage table was a towel and a square plastic packet containing a pair of ridiculously tiny black nylon unisex underwear.

I must have fallen asleep a half dozen times during my session, waking abruptly up shortly after each from the sound of my own snoring and a quiet giggle from the women gently kneading my body. She was both a thorough and skillful therapist but didn’t speak more than a few words of English. So I couldn’t be bothered to even try to explain to her that I was severely jet-lagged. She looked a little like a sumo wrestler; round, sturdy and completely neckless. At some point in between dozing in and out of sleep, I wondered how many shops more or less like this one there can be in Bangkok. Must be in the hundreds, if not thousands. A more important question is whether or not all cats in Thailand are siamese.


The Best of Västra Hamnen

I’ve been filming our neighborhood, the area called Västra Hamnen here in Malmö, for about five years. More frequently during the last couple, probably because filming from a drone adds spectacular perspectives and arguably, at least when done right, a cinematic quality that has previously been more or less unattainable for the average Joe.

I didn’t count the total number of clips in this “showreel”, but there’s certainly a tidy bunch. I’ve used just about every camera I’ve owned in recent memory to capture these scens, including, Leica, Sony, Canon, Fuji, Gopro, iPhone and as just mentioned, a drone (DJI).

We’re about to shove off and I’m still weighing what gear to bring and what to leave behind. With a history of serious GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), I could easily fill an addition 25kg suitcase with “good-to-have-stuff”. But that’d be too much of a physical penalty to endure.

So, I’m now in a state of perpetual packing and unpacking, figuring out what really qualifies as essential equipment, tools that make telling a story as simple and straightforward as possible. Things that let me take advantage of both spontaneous ideas (i.e. creative whims) and planned projects. In my heart of hearts, I already know that my now horribly outdated but still quite useful iPhone Xs Max will suffice just fine in most cases and definitely for filming. For projects that come about and demand some “heavy lifting”, I’ll have the extremely capable and reliable Fuji XT3 and the formidably stabilized and waterproof Gopro 7 in my camera bag.

Waterfall in Malmö Sweden

Windless at the Waterfall

Shot this scene last night in Västra Hamnen, just a few hundred yards from where we live in Malmö. I was actually out and about photographing the exterior of Kockum Fritid’s relatively new entrance. I didn’t see it at the time, so capturing the gentle whirlpool, created by the tiny waterfall, was a result of a 30 second exposure time and almost windless weather. More images from Västra Hamenn can be viewed here.

art exhibit

Avoiding Anticlimax

The surefire way to avoid the otherwise unavoidable anticlimax after something big – like this past weekends two separate art shows – is to make sure you continue to be super-busy or be so emotionally engaged that you just don’t have time or space to think about what just went down.

If you saw me right now, you’d see the streaks from dried tears on either side of my solemn face. I’m not sad, nor happy. Melancholy best describes how I feel right now. It’s not an uncomfortable place to be, but I am typically not there much.

Though intense, the weekend went extremely well, with many visitors and several of my pieces sold during Malmö’s annual Gallery Night. I might have let me self soak in anticlimactic dwellness, but this morning, after a few truly exhaustive days and still not fully caught up from lost sleep, we woke up before the crack of dawn, had breakfast around our dining room table and then hugged and kissed a bunch before Elle left us for her first solo trip to Asia.

Gallerinatten 2019

Gallery Night 2019

As previously posted, I’ve been invited by Malmö’s Culture and Art Association to exhibit my work on Saturday and Sunday at the city’s annual Gallery Night. I really dig this year’s poster and was humbled by how much space I was given in the collage of fellow artists. Speaking of collage…I will be showing a total of 8 pieces; 6 large format and 2 smaller, all themed on photos from my visits to the industrial warehouses and giant workshops (some of which have just recently been torn down) at Kockums. If you’re in town this weekend, do drop by!