Category Archives: Dogs

The Pros, Cons and Pitfalls of Intercambio

Since moving to Vejer I have been introduced to practices and events that are ‘normal’ for here but new and sometimes alien to me. Intercambio being an example and, rather like the metaphoric skinning of a cat, there’s more than one way to ‘exchange’ as I’ve come to discover.

My initial introduction to Intercambio, Spanish-style, came shortly after arriving when a friend suggested the weekly event would be a great place to meet new people and practice actually speaking Spanish.

Every Thursday evening an eclectic and ever-changing group of people come together at a local tea shop/bar to exchange language and conversation. The group switches from Spanish to English at fifteen minute intervals. As you never know who you’ll be sitting next to and there are no set rules about the topics you cover, the evenings are always lively and challenging. And I ‘get’ them. I understand that the payback for the listener having to suffer through 15 agonisingly slow minutes of my appalling Spanish, is my complete and undivided attention when their turn comes to butcher the English language. I love the equality of the evening – sometimes you drag yourself through treacle trying to converse with someone who either won’t speak or appears to have nothing very interesting to say and on other occasions you’re immediately immersed in a fascinating (if stilted) conversation with someone of real interest to you.

The benefits (to me) of my second introduction to an intercambiar are slightly less tangible at this, admittedly early, stage of the exchange. Having volunteered at a Punto Solidario (an organisation working to improve the quality of life for all in Vejer through projects and a FairTrade shop) the head lady recommended me to a local man looking for an English tutor for his son. “It’s an intercambiar” I was told. ‘Okay’ I thought not entirely sure what I was being offered in exchange. Off I trotted to meet with said father who speaks no English and is a form of alternative therapist that I’m not entirely sure I’d understand even in my native tongue but his explanation was way beyond my limited Spanish comprehension.

In for a cent, in for a euro as they quite possibly say over here. I have committed to two hours a day, five days a week for the next fortnight, to tutor a thirteen year old boy in the run up to his English exam on 1st of September. In return I’m being offered something that I don’t understand and am not even sure that I want.

“They saw you coming” was my husband’s helpful and motivating comment once I’d explained the arrangement. Although I don’t think they can have done, because their offices are at the back of the building and don’t overlook the road I walked down to get there?

In the spirit of: adventure, putting it out there, trusting the universe and givers gain, I’m honouring my agreement confident that I’ll benefit in ways that might not be immediately obvious. After just one hour for example, when supportive hubby asked “So, what have you learned so far then profesora?” I was able to reply that my pupil is an only child, his father has 3 sisters and a brother, his mother has only one brother, I know the names of both sets of grandparents , that my pupil has a medium sized, black, water dog and that Spanish Water Dogs don’t moult. Not bad huh!

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Blogging Made Serious

My day job is an interesting combination of marketing writing, teaching Business English and being on the Community Aid Committee of the wonderful Hanoi International Women’s club.  And of course those tasks get juggled alongside everything else that most women (and yes, some men) deal with on a daily basis – currently that includes moving house.  So it will come as no surprise that I cannot function without a daily To Do List, combined with jottings and slips of paper in a desk calendar, a pocket calendar and electronic calendars all neatly synched between laptop, iPad and phone.  Simply keeping these aide memoires up to date and colour co-ordinated regularly provides endless hours of entertainment (I think that was someone’s catch phrase but don’t know whose?).

In that wonderful way that only the universe fully understands, my various ‘worlds’ often overlap and merge in a very satisfying way (and occasionally collide in a less pleasant manner) and I marvel every time when I’m asked to write an article on a subject that is just the topic I need to know more about at that particular time.

Two recent examples illustrate my point.  The first, more positively than the second, was an article I wrote for an e-newsletter where the topic was how to handle email overload in the office.  I have the Post It Note in front of me as I type:  Do, Delegate, Designate Time and Dump and I have to say, this system works very well for me (when I remember to use it!).

The second article was a longer piece about business blogging – why you need one and how to get started.  Researching this article had me engrossed and I enjoyed writing it so much I even decided to implement some of the advice.  An hour or so later I had a hand written, a typed and an Evernote version of my blog’s mission statement, frequency, editorial calendar and keywords.

That was back in April and since then I ‘should’ have written fortnightly on:

  • Public Holidays in Vietnam
  • Getting a second dog
  • Trailing spouse syndrome
  • Visiting Thailand
  • Staying home alone in a strange country while hubby works away
  • Visiting Phu Quoc island
  • The CAC and HIWC
  • Moving house, what you look for in a home when living abroad
  • Holidays redefined – when going back home is not a holiday

And since April I think, from memory, I’ve posted about two blogs and probably not actually covered any of these topics.  In fact, I haven’t felt inclined to blog at all.  What had been a pleasure that I admittedly didn’t indulge in as often as I would have liked, had suddenly become a chore.  Creating this plan took all the creativity out of the process for me.  What had been fun has now become work.

Three months later here’s what I’ve learned – not all plans are good plans, you don’t always need a plan and – if it isn’t working ditch the plan!

So, hopefully I’ll be back more often and writing about the stuff that appeals at the time of writing rather than following a ‘features calendar’ and hopefully my readers will enjoy the randomness of ad hoc writing.  I’ll leave you with a photo of me and the hubby getting soaked playing splash with an elephant in Thailand – just to bring the fun back into this blog!

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Belle and Sally Sizing Each Other Up

Belle and Sally Sizing Each Other Up

There has been a great deal of circling around each other, nudging, lip curling and lying down in strategic places (like right across the doorway to bar the other one’s entrance or exit). After two weeks our English Whippet/Lurcher and the new Vietnamese Phu Quoc are just about learning that ‘yes’ there is enough: love, food and space for both of them within this family and not everything needs to be turned into a diplomatic incident!

Three Wishes

I wished I didn’t have to walk the dog so many times every day in Hanoi.

I got pneumonia and was housebound for two weeks.

I missed going out with the dog.

I wished the incessant drilling and banging would stop on the construction site next door as my neighbour builds a new house.

We had a power cut for 6 hours during which time I missed a work deadline in the UK and nearly roasted to death.

I missed the noise next door.

I wished I had remembered the old adage:  Be careful what you wish for, it might just happen.

Short and sweet

Do you know, I’ve been delaying writing a new post until I’ve got time to write about something interesting.

However, I’m so busy having adventures here that I’m not finding or making time to write anything.  I came onto WordPress this morning to check the link address to send to a friend and then thought – go on, write a post, even if it is short and sweet.

So, here I am!  We’ve had a ‘rat in mi kitchen‘ (reference to UB40 song which if you haven’t heard its ace, and if you have heard it you’re now going to be singing for the rest of the day!  By coincidence the link I’ve given for YouTube is a live version from Cardiff – my home town!) for a week or so, ever since my neighbour started demolishing the house next door.  Finally this morning I got it trapped in the sitting room and called the landlord to come and remove it.  He duly arrived armed with a broom and a cleaver.  After several frantic minutes chasing around the sitting room with Sally (the dog) leaping about encouragingly on the other side of the glass wall/door, said landlord emerged proudly holding up an inert rat.  Probably sleeping but possibly a little more permanent than that, I do feel the very slightest twinge of guilt that the rat might have been a mummy or daddy and has a family back home awaiting its return.  However, remembering the mango, banana, dog biscuits, oyster sauce and bread it’s managed to chomp its way through I rather feel like the days of a free meal at my house are justifiably over.

Okay, short but not so sweet!  Until next time,

The Borrowers

I don’t know why, it’s not as if the inhabitants are little people or anything, but this dwelling always reminds me of The Borrowers. Just before moving to Vietnam we watched a new BBC One dramatisation of Mary Norton‘s classic novel so maybe that’s why it’s near the front of my mind. Like many children I absolutely loved the idea that there might be little people living in our midst who ‘borrow’ all those things that go missing!

However, this picture is in some ways perhaps rather sad – this motley collection of cast offs and leftovers is someone’s home. From what I can gather a family of 6 live here, including two young children, but that could be more because Vietnamese families prefer to live all together and I often see an elderly woman emerging from the front door too.

Like many thousands of Vietnamese people, this family make their living from collecting, sorting and I guess selling on somehow, other people’s rubbish. Their house happens to be on a piece of wasteland where I walk Sally sometimes so the family now recognise me and wave or say Xin Chao (hello). The children – under 6 years of age – are both fascinated by and terrified of Sally but they do seem to enjoy watching her frolicking around off lead and throwing/catching various bits of ‘treasure’ like an empty drink bottle.

Not usually one for facts and figures I can tell you that the minimum wage here is (supposedly) 2 million Vietnamese Dong (Vnd) per month – roughly £60 and very roughly £2 a day. Sure many things are very cheap here but even so, that is not a lot of money. A paper collector can earn 3 million a month while a surgeon will earn 30 million (an amount that only 2% of the population generate).

The observant amongst my readers will have noticed that there are a) not a lot of photos and b) none showing people. It’s not that I’m not interested in people, quite the opposite in fact, I’m only really interested in people. It’s because I have an absolute horror/dread/fear of taking someone’s photo without asking them first. Yes I have some hang ups about having my own photo taken and yes it stems from my childhood and yes Dad, I forgive you honest I do! There are some stunningly beautiful, tender interactions between people here where the lines between public and private are very blurred.

Many people live out their lives on the streets, in public and the opportunity to observe or bear witness to all of life’s interactons is all around you. When my hubby walks Sally last thing at night he never ceases to tell me how many of the cars and motobrikes were ‘rocking’ on the waste ground which doubles as a spot for young lovers under cover of darkness. (Isn’t that illegal in the UK by the way?!)

Maybe one day I’ll pluck up the courage to ask The Borrowers if I can take their picture outside their home but then how could I explain that I don’t want the picture to gloat or show the world how dreadful it is here – but to show you how happy they seem, the level of teamwork displayed with every single family member pulling their weight and mucking in and how ingenious is their house which withstands the truly awful weather in Hanoi. I couldn’t explain it and have them understand and I don’t want to steal from them so I’ll have to try to capture them in my mind and the occasional furtive picture and hope that that’s okay with them.

To Let

It’s official, the house is now available to let and I’m busy getting all those odd jobs done that we never quite got around to.  Like putting draught excluder on the windows and doors that previously allowed the gales to blow right in as we shivered inside muttering: We should put draught excluder on that window/door.  Daft isn’t it – £6.95 in B & Q and we’re snug as bugs.  The only thing is we do get a bit of a shock when we open a door and realise it is actually still blowing that gale outside, we just didn’t notice it!!!

Enough about draught excluder.  The To Let board has just gone up outside the house and I feel quite strange looking out at it – there’s something slightly vulnerable about being inside a house that’s advertising the fact that you’re going.  Anyway, we’ve had an enquiry from a family relocating from Austria which I’d love – there’s something really appealing about a family having an adventure here as ex pats while we’re in Vietnam doing the same.  However, sentimental old fool that I am – a rental’s a rental and I won’t insist that the house goes to ‘someone that I like’ 🙂

Christmas was wonderful and we had plenty of time with all the kids which was great – they seem to think that they must spend lots of time with us because we’ll soon be gone.  They do know we’re back on 16th June don’t they?!  Ah well, I’m not complaining, it’s been ace.

This week has been remarkably stressful because I ‘phoned Singapore Airlines, just to confirm the arrangements for Sally and was told that they don’t take pets from the UK.  Panic, panic, deep breaths, scream.  Not to be deterred I emailed them and asked the same thing, only to have a lovely man call me to say yes it can all be done, to explain the process and get her booked in.  Maybe I’m old fashioned but I always like to speak to someone first and really dislike/distrust online booking forms.  This incident reminds me though how important it is to do both – but make sure you’re dealing with someone who does actually know/have the ability to help you.  Avoid call centres at all cost!!!

In addition to clearing the house I’m busily arranging to meet family and friends to say goodbye – only 6 weeks really to do it all and we’re going to Vejer for a week in the middle of it all so plenty to keep me busy.

Oh no, that could be mine!

Whippet runway

This cutting is going to give me nightmares – not only do we have a whippet/lurcher who’ll chase anything, she even looks like this one.

Just off to check she’s in her basket …