21 February, 2017


Location: Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is famous for it's tailored clothes. Many people come here specifically to get clothes made. We'd talked about maybe doing it but hadn't really made a final decision.

That being said, one morning Mark and I were approaching the market to do a bit of vegetable shopping when a lady came up and started talking to us, I wasn't really paying attention. Mark started following her, and, being the dutiful wife, I followed. After we had already walked through the food section of the market my curiosity got the better of me, “Where are we going?”. Mark replied “This lady is going to make you a dress for $10 and me a shirt for $5!”. Groan.

The changing room.
 We kept following her and she finally led us into this huge building full of fabric and cute young lady salespeople. The older lady who had led us there took us to “Cloth Shop 45”, then stepped back and let the young sales ladies do their stuff. They sat us down, gave us a bottle of water each, got out their design books, and fluttered around us. We said we would like a dress and a shirt and asked how much it would cost.

Them: “The more you buy the cheaper it is.”

Us: “Ok, but how much is that?”

Them: “We can't tell you until you pick a design and some material.”
Nice fit!
OK, so I went through the book of dress designs and selected 2, while Mark told another girl what sort of shirt and shorts he wanted. There was a lot of question and answer going on, but luckily they all spoke pretty good English.

Them: “Ok, now you have to pick material.”

If you know us and know how we usually dress, you know that this is not something we like to do - too much like shopping <sigh>. Mark, being colorblind, as usual refused to pick any fabric and deferred to my selections.

Them: “You our first customers today – very lucky! For you we give very good price.”

Another nice fit.
We finally settled on the fabric and, as expected, the price was more than the original woman had said. Go figure. We bartered for a while, got up to leave and eventually settled on a price that we could all live with, very reasonable for hand tailored clothes. Bartering is a matter of course here, to some it is a game, but to us it's always a bit painful.

Them: “Come back tomorrow 1pm. We have your clothes ready. Very good. You like. We promise”

The next day our friends went with us to see our new clothes. We were actually very pleased, they needed a little alteration but we were told they would be ready the next afternoon.

The girl who buttoned Mark's shirt for him (!?!?!) told him to look in the mirror. Knowing he is not the best judge of fashion, he said he needed to show me, instead. From that point on, the girls called me his “mirror” - “Go show mirror”, “Let mirror see”, etc. It was cute and pretty funny.

"Lucky Budda" and his girls.
And now, whenever we go to the shop, they all seem to enjoy rubbing Mark's belly and saying “Lucky Budda, lucky Budda”.

The results.
We are happy to tell you that we are very pleased with our new gear.

12 February, 2017


Location: Hoi An, Vietnam

One of the most useful words we've learned so far here in Vietnam is “bia” (pronounced “bee-ah”), the Vietnamese word for “beer”. Because of this happy coincidence, we can always make ourselves understood when we order one. This is “a very good thing”, as the rest of our vocabulary is sadly lacking.

So far, we've learned “beer”, “3-3-3” (the name of a local beer) “Happy New Year”, “hello”, and “thank you” - useful phrases all. Unfortunately, we sometimes get mixed up. Case in point: the guy who supplies us with bottled water lives across the street from us. We take our empty 19 liter jug over there, give him a 10,000 dong note (about $0.50 US) , and he carries a full one over to our house and puts it on the counter. Last time Mark goes through the whole routine, the guy is leaving and Mark gives him a nod and says “Hello. Hello.” He smiles and says “Hello” back (probably wondering when Mark will start his version of the “hello” dance) and walks back home. Julie, Steve, and Marg all start laughing and say “You just said “Hello, hello” instead of “Thank you”. DOH!!

We have made some friends here despite the linguistic challenges. A few days ago we were visited by an older man, one of our neighbors, and his daughter-in-law, who thankfully speaks English very well. Turns out they're having an annual post-Tet full moon street party on our street and they would like us to attend. We give them a donation to help cover supplies, food, drinks, etc. and promise we'll be there at 4pm. Laughing, she says “Yes, and if you aren't on time someone will come by your house to make sure you remember!”

Last night was the full moon and this morning there's a tent set up spanning the street. At 2pm a Buddhist ceremony is taking place. It involves incense, gongs, bells, chanting, and a big drum. Not wanting to intrude we sit outside on our patio and wait to see what happens.

At 4pm a friend comes to tell us it is time and we all wander down the street. They are just finishing up the ceremony and invite us to sit and watch. We ask if it's okay to take pictures and it is, so we do.

Tables at both ends of the tent are covered with food, bowls, glasses, candles, and incense. The ceremonial participants chant, play a bell, a gong, and a big drum, and burn a lot of stuff – incense, wood, paper, money, etc. Near the end of the ceremony several people who have been observing with us get up to pray and bow.

They have built and decorated a 4 foot long dragon ship. It has wooden pontoons and sits on a low cart. When it's time, they fill the boat with food and other offerings and push the cart down to the river. We are invited to come along. We walk with them down to the river and the dragon boat is lowered into a boat, taken to the middle of the river, and set adrift amid much flinging of colored paper, paper money, cigarettes, and candy. The whole celebration is to ensure a happy and prosperous year for all who attend.

Then it's back to our street. There we find 7 tables set up with 10 stools per table, each one covered with food. Our new friends seat us at a table and we wait. We have no idea what much of the food is or what the protocol is for eating it. We all have a bowl and chopsticks and we wait for the other people at our table to start so we can see what we are supposed to do. The problem is they are waiting for us, the guests, to make the first move!

Eventually one fellow sitting next to Mark figures out what's going on and shows us what to do, helping us to our servings so we can start. Then they all get stuck in and we follow suit. There is shrimp (eaten complete with head, shell, legs, and tail), chicken, pork, crispy pork belly, fish, salad, lots of vegetables, rice, rice cakes, bread, etc., followed by a delicious soup and more unknown bits of food. It's all similar to and yet different from the New Year celebration we attended at Quyen's Riverside Pottery Village Homestay.

There is also lots of “bia” which is topped up as soon as a sip is taken. Most of the food is awesome, and some tastes a bit odd to our western palates, requiring copious amounts of “bia” to wash it down. Dessert is fresh fruit and more bia. After dinner the disco lights are turned on and the loud, thumping music begins. And the bia flows.

As with our other celebration, people from the audience come up to sing, and most of them are pretty good. One couple from our table dances a tango while someone else sings. Everyone is encouraged to participate, the kids are dancing, the smoke machine is pumping out smoke, and the disco lights are flashing. Everyone has a wonderful time and we are made to feel so welcome.
After the singing starts our friend Dong (means “beauty”, pronounced “tung” -ish) from across the street comes over to our table and whisks Julie & Marg away to 'the ladies table'. There follows even more beer and lots of laughing. None of them speak English but they encourage us to try different foods and a few of them get up and sing.

As soon as they are left unattended, Mark & Steve help the men consolidate several tables into a “men's table”. Everyone wants to clink their glass with the guests, loudly count to 5 in Vietnamese, and quaff their bia. Then it's time for a refill and another toast. And so it goes for some time....

At one point, Mark gets up to take a photo of the table and they all toast him as he snaps the picture. As he moves (well, perhaps stumbles might be a bit more accurate) along the table to get some shots of the ladies table, one fellow grabs him and pulls him aside just as a motorbike zooms past. Close call!

Occasionally during the evening tourists walk down our street. We can see them looking at us and wondering “How did those people get to go to that party?” We feel special and privileged to have been invited to this important annual event and feel that the good luck and prosperity of our friends has already started to rub off on us.

Let's have another bia!!

04 February, 2017

Family Island Regatta Vietnamese Style

 Location: Hoi An, Vietnam

While living on Rachel, we really enjoyed attending a few Family Island Regattas in Georgetown, Exuma, Bahamas. Today we had almost as much fun (albeit only for a couple of hours rather than five days) watching the Hoi An Tet celebration boat races.

Two races, about 8 boats from local neighborhoods and mostly local spectators cheering them on from the shore and in boats. One can't watch an event like this without getting caught up in all the excitement.

This is an annual event that takes place just after the Tet holiday. The boats are double ended rowing boats. Like most boats here in Vietnam, there is an eye painted on either side of the bow. We've read that they are supposed to be the eyes of ospreys, which strike fear into sea monsters, keeping the boat and it's crew safe on the water.

At any rate, there's a crew of 8 men, six constantly paddling, one on the bow paddling most of the time and helping pull the boat around the turns, and 1 man in the stern to steer, paddling like crazy when he can, too. In the fastest boats the forward paddler on the inside joins the bow man in pulling the bow around. With two of them pulling, the boat makes it's turn faster and can regain speed more quickly.

 The race is three laps around a course that we guess to be about 500 yards long with a turning buoy at each end. We watched the first race from about ½ way between the turning buoys. As the boats passed, the spectators used bailers, paddles, whatever was at hand to throw and splash water on their favorite crews to cool them down.

 The second race found us right near one of the turning buoys. Definitely now our preferred place to see the best action.

We saw one boat overturn after being pushed by another, and the following boats simply blasted right on through, just missing the crew in the water, with one actually riding right over the capsized boat. Very exciting – thank goodness no one was hurt.

One of the strategies if you are slightly behind another boat is to wait for them to start to make the turn around the mark, then take the inside and jam your boat between them and the buoy, forcing them further outside. Once the mark has been passed, you then paddle like crazy to turn your boat first and get into the lead.

Touching the mark is apparently not penalized in these races – in fact, most of the time the boat approaches slightly inside the mark, leaving the lead paddler to whack the mark with his paddle to force it to the inside of the boat at just the right time, thereby shortening the course temporarily by a foot or so.


In the video above, you can see the boat that won (yellow shirts with white shirts fore and aft) on the left actually stop paddling for a bit to allow their opponents to pass them on the inside during the first turn of the race. Once the other boat starts the turn, the yellow guys start paddling like crazy and two of them turn sideways and pull the bow around. By taking control of the inside they are able to come about more quickly and take the lead. Very dramatic.

The next video shows how NOT to make the turn. The inside boat is forced to the inside of the buoy by another boat. We think “They'll have to back up to go around it”. In true Family Island Regatta spirit, however, they say “The heck with that!”. The guys on the buoy side of the boat just pass the buoy forward, dragging it's anchor until the bow guy can shove it under the bow, allowing the boat to round it on the outside and take off again. Then they run into the side of the outside boat and use the other boat's momentum to help them turn faster! Only problem with this strategy is that it can be difficult to paddle and steer when two boats are tight against each other. After all this, one of the committee boats had to come out and re-anchor the mark. 

The last video shows the battle for second place.  The woman at the bottom of the screen is obviously rooting for the red shirt teem who came in second in both races.


The winning boat “Thanh Ha” (pronounced “tine-hahhh” - ish) won both races. And, happily enough for us, it turns out they're from the pottery village (Go team! Yay!!).

In reviewing all the videos we took, it's pretty easy to see why Thanh Ha won. From the start to the finish these guys gave 100%. Paddles flashing they took an early lead in both races and after the first lap rounded the buoys uncontested – seemingly the only sure way to make sure no-one else messes with you in the turns. Three laps at full tilt can't have been easy. And a second race less than an hour later, also three laps at full tilt, must have been really exhausting. These guys were so dominant they lapped the last place boat in the first race and won by an even larger margin in the second race. They really had their strategy and teamwork down, and seemed to stay totally focused throughout both races.

Congratulations, Thanh Ha!!

03 February, 2017


 Happy New Year! Or, perhaps more appropriately, Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

Vietnam uses the lunar calendar, so the Tet holiday changes every year.  The first event of the Tet holiday is New Years Eve, which this year is on January 27.  This will be the year of the rooster so there are lots of big mylar rooster balloons for sale.

The excitement in our neighborhood has been building for days. We've had rain for the past several days until yesterday, when the sun came out. There is an increasing number of kids playing in our street, and everyone seems to be looking forward to the new year. Our street has become more active and much more interesting!

The sidewalks are filled with drying laundry and scrubbed furniture – it seems everyone is working up a storm, getting in their last minute cleaning before Tet. It's bad luck to sweep during Tet (you could sweep the good luck out of the house and have bad luck for the entire next year), so after tonight, that's it for at least the next three days. The people who live here are very industrious and very clean – the women always seem to be out sweeping, cooking, and doing laundry.

 Many along our street burn paper, fake money, and other things throughout the day, sending “gifts” to their ancestors. From what we have been able to learn, most people don't believe in this as much as they used to in the old days, but it's still a traditional sign of respect – similar to us placing flowers on a relative's grave. We have to monitor the burn rate to decide when to open or close our front doors to keep the ash and smoke out of the house.

Every house along our street seems to have guests. This evening before the festivities, a guest of one of our across-the-street neighbors killed, scalded, plucked, and butchered a chicken on the sidewalk in front of their house. 

The kumquat trees, chrysanthemums, and other flowering plants are in full bloom, and tonight and for the next three days we expect to see everyone in their finest.

 New, brightly colored clothes seem to be the order of the day. Tradition dictates that everyone has new clothes for Tet so everyone looks really spiffy (except us!). Dark clothes, especially black and white, symbolize bad luck. Don't feed anyone duck or squid – the duck is a stupid animal and has dark (unlucky) meat. The squid emits ink, also dark, and therefore, unlucky. We are on our best behaviour, trying to make sure we don't offend anyone as we participate in this, the biggest holiday of the Vietnamese year.

 --- Two days later

It's strange to look out onto our street and not see at least someone sweeping. Before Tet, it was a pretty much constant activity – we could walk down our street any time of day and see several people sweeping. Now, during Tet, there's not a broom to be seen.
One of many Tet traditions is that of giving small children lucky money (“Li Xi”) in a red envelope on the first day of Lunar New Year. Our landlady, who lives next door to us, has had several grandchildren visiting. They seem very interested in us, and, when they first arrived, reached out over the fence between the houses for us to give them lucky money. Unfortunately, we weren't very well prepared, and their parents stopped them and apologized for their forwardness before we could give them any.

Another tradition is making and eating “Bánh tét”, or as we call it “green log”. Our neighbor across the street turned her sidewalk into a bánh tét factory for a few days before Tet. Big tubs of rice and soybeans, lots of soaking, lots of rinsing, lots of pork slicing, and lots of wrapping and tying in banana leaves, resulted in a dining room table that was stacked full
of green logs. There was a pretty much constant stream of people coming to buy them, so Julie & Marg went over and bought one for us. We boiled it for several hours, sliced it, added soy sauce and chili sauce, and found it to be delicious. Here's a link with more information.

The ubiquitous food cart.

Walking around the neighbourhoods we've seen families sitting together playing card games, everyone seems to participate and they all seem to be having lots of fun.

Almost every marketplace and shop, and many restaurants are closed. As a result, we've had to eat out for the last 2 days as we were nearly out of food. Not such a hardship, however, as meals usually cost between $1 and $5. Mr. Hi (pronounced “hee”) and his wife Tao (pronounced like Taos, New Mexico without the “s”)” at “Hi's Restaurant” have kept us well fed with inexpensive and really delicious meals. And the best part is that they're only about half a block from our house!

These rockets were set off about 100 feet from where we were standing!   We were under a palm tree so luckily none of the falling debris hit us.

We didn't get to see these folks perform on New Years Eve, but we did get to see them practice a few days before.  We especially enjoyed their choice of music.

Today we walked over to Cam Nam, the next island down river from us. Two little boys all dressed up for Tet, did a little “Hello” dance for us. Unfortunately, we only caught he last few seconds of it on camera so we can't share most of it with you, but you get the idea - it involved a lot of jumping and yelling "Hello!"

Note: Check out our friends Steve & Marg's blog at:

23 January, 2017

Hoi An Pottery Village

20 January, 2017

We are wondering why our host named his homestay the Riverside Pottery Village Homestay. We ask, and he gives us directions to our hotel's namesake and sends us off on 4 of his bikes.

Just a short ride back toward old town we turn right at the fish market. We haven't made it to the fish market yet because it's only open from 3am to 7am – a bit early for our jet lagged selves to contemplate at this point.

After the fishing village we come to the pottery village where terra cotta pottery is still made in kilns made of clay and wooden strips. A museum has been built here and we happily pay the 30,000 dong (about $1.50) entrance fee.

Inside we find ourselves delighted. We are surrounded by incredible terra cotta art installations, a 3D visual gourmet meal.

Rather than try to describe them, we've decided to take the easy way out and just post a bunch of pictures. Hopefully they will give you a sense of what we found in this little gem of a museum. What a delicious ocular feast.

Leaving the museum, we take the back route through the fishing village along the river and stumble across dessert – a fleet of brightly colored fishing boats.

Still having a wonderful time,

Julie & Mark

Julie's new friend.

Interesting restroom signs