Tai Chi in Lumphini

I’ve been practicing Tai Chi in Lumpini for few days together with the always cheerful and competent instructor Claire Hu from Thailand. In her previous career, Claire was a Dean at a university here in Bangkok and after deciding to take early retirement, she received her Tai Chi education in Chen village of northern China, where, according to both Claire and Wikipedia, the discipline originated thanks to a dude named, yep, Chen. Two of the most popular styles of Tai Chi are Chen and Yang, and Claire is introducing me to both.

Though heavily influenced by the slower Qigong, Tai Chi is clearly a defense driven martial art that when practiced correctly, is supposed to have a slew of tangible health benefits.

Like many other parks throughout Asia, Lumphini attracts dozens of folks practicing various forms of Tai Chi and Qigong. Yet, as far as I’ve seen up until this morning, I’m the only westerner studying Tai Chi at Lumphini. © Photo: Claire Hu


Back in Bangkok

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.


My Khe Beach in Da Nang

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.


Vietnam Pets & Vets

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.


Taco Patrons at Taco Ngon

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.


Julian the Pig

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.


Watermelon

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.


Hollow Halloween

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.


Chicken vs Cat vs Snail

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.


King Dong

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.


Drip Drip Drop

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


In and Out of a Sidecar

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.


Koh Samui Guide

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.


Gorgeous & Wonderful Imperfections

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.


Tam Quan Chua Ba Mu Temple

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.


Yesterday at Cẩm An Beach

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.


Avocado & Yoga

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


Adjusting to Slow Life

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…


On the Edge

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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 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.


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.