Category Archives: Ex Pat

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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Matters Medical

First up I confess it – I’m a dreadful nurse.  My sympathy lasts all of 5 minutes, 10 maximum, after which I think we should all just move on and pretend nothing untoward is happening.  Given this insight into my empathy skills,  you may have some sympathy for my husband who has been suffering from tooth ache for the best part of three weeks now. For the first couple of visits to the clinica dental, armed only with his 3-months worth of Spanish lessons and a few specific phrases translated via Google Translate and our impressively large Oxford Spanish Dictionary, he bravely set off alone and returned with a numb mouth and prescriptions for medication he wasn’t entirely sure how/when to take.

Showing a remarkable degree of pity I suggested going with him last week.  Whilst no expert, my Spanish is marginally better than hubby’s and anyway, I figured two beginners are probably better than one.

Sure enough, we did seem to make a little progress in understanding the problem and likely healing time.  I’m pleased to report that he is, slowly but surely, on the mend.  Yes, yes, I know, tooth ache is horrid and you can’t ignore it and, and … But come on, if you can eat chocolate, it’s not that bad!!!

Where else this week are you going to read about teeth and babies in the same post?  And not even the teeth of babies.  I’m talking newborns.  And more precisely the little girl born prematurely in Spain a few weeks ago to an English mother who was then separated from her daughter for 3 weeks whilst DNA tests were carried out.  This story is still all over the media and it’s driving me crazy.  The lady in question had her baby in Spain, not in a hospital but at ‘home’.  She went to hospital the next day – to a place where she was completely unknown with a newborn baby and presumably no medical records, paperwork etc.  In Spain the law (I believe) dictates that her and the baby should remain in hospital while tests are carried out to make sure a) they are both in good health and b) that the baby does indeed belong to the ‘mother’.

Had she abducted this baby – yes, I know she didn’t but bear with me.  Had the baby been abducted and the media picked up the story and the hospital had to admit that yes some completely random woman had walked in with a newborn claiming it as her own and they had done nothing to check the validity of her claim – they would be being crucified in the media by now and everyone would be screaming about how this could happen.

My gripe is that, in my personal opinion, the media is making a big deal out of a non story.  The lady in question was in a foreign country – she was not in England where she speaks the language and could presumably have explained her situation better.  Don’t we have enough issues in Europe at the moment without creating divisions and demonising another country’s professionals for acting in perfect accord with their own laws?    Silly season or not, watching a new mum saying she’s so traumatised she might never come back to Spain is just plain trouble making.  Come on media – I for one expect better from you.

Viva las diferencias

One reason for living abroad, or indeed just travelling, is to experience first-hand the differences in life, even in seemingly shared experiences.

Having lived in Vejer de la Frontera for just 4 weeks we were a little perturbed to discover two speeding tickets in our postbox one morning.  Dating from our first week in Spain our concern was with how many more might arrive over the coming days!

Anyway, the 200 euro fine would be halved if paid within 20 consecutive days.  No one seemed sure when those days started but everyone agreed that one would be quashed as, at 109 kms in a 100 zone we were within the 10% margin of error.  Wrong – that has been stopped, at least in the Jerez area, as vehicle equipment is apparently now so sophisticated that there is no error – and therefore no margin. Nothing, nada, zip.  100 kms means 100 kms!

Having tried to pay online and almost lost the will to live we decided to head to our local Santander bank, with the promise of desayuno (breakfast) in our favourite bar on the way back.  As an incredibly rusty lower intermediate Spanish speaker my automatic assumption when confronted with speech I don’t understand is just that – that I don’t understand it.  Sometimes though reality is a little more complex and, in fact, my understanding has been spot on linguistically, it’s the concept I don’t understand.

The very friendly lady in Banco Santander explained that we could only pay there for free on a Tuesday or a Thursday; between 8.30 and 10.30 and between the 10th and 20th of each month.  All other times, there is a 3 euro fee per ticket.

As I said, actually I understood her words but still didn’t appreciate the concept, until she showed me the sign pinned up on the wall where, sure enough it confirmed the 3 requirements for fee-free fine payment.  She advised us to come back the follow week when we could ‘save’ ourselves 6 euros.  All well and good until I asked her when the 20 days started from and she confirmed that it would take us to either the 9th or 10th March, she wasn’t sure.

By now exhausted and in need of my cafe manchado with tostados con tomato y aceite (milky coffee with toast, tomatoes and olive oil) we decided not to take the risk, paid 106 euros for the two fines and left the bank heads spinning.

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On one hand this seeming bureaucracy could drive you crazy, but on the other hand – it’s why we aren’t living back home.  Viva las diferencias!

Back

Well, having spent a few months trying out Blogger instead of WordPress and acquiring a new iPad mini along the way, I think I’m back!
They say to embrace change but I wonder when I’m changing something just because I can, or to try out the latest ‘thing’ and when change really is to the benefit of me and those in my community.
Having struggled to access WordPress while in Vietnam I switched but it occurs to me that I prefer WP and now that I’m back in Europe there really isn’t any reason not to return.
So, here I am, back up and running and plenty to share from the last few months – about life, identity, family and a sense of belonging.
To be continued …!
Smiles,
Karen

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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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,

Adapting to Your Environment

One of the things I knew nothing about before moving to Hanoi was the reality of the climate here.  Speaking completely personally, and no, I’m not an expert (!) – it’s awful!  We’ve been here almost a full calendar year having arrived at the very beginning of March 2012, February is the only month we haven’t experienced yet.

Apart from November which was a lovely month (am I biased because I had friends to stay and it was my birthday?), no weatherwise it was pretty good, really every single month has been a challenge for me.  When I first arrived I was pretty soon struck down with Hanoi Hack (a medical term folks, I’m not making it up for dramatic effect), that took weeks to clear up before a short period of respite and another bout of coughing, bronchitis, sinusitis  …..

Add to the challenge of keeping my body healthy with all the pollution here, the climate  itself and really I’m amazed I’m still here!  March was very grey, April started to brighten up, May – August were so unbelievably hot that going up a flight of 10 steps inside the house seemed like a gargantuan effort.  Oh you get the picture …

One of the things I love about the Vietnamese, and expats now I come to think about it, is their willingness to share information.  And this is particularly so when it comes to medication.  I have drunk all sorts of herbal concoctions and teas which were absolutely guaranteed to cure a cough (and no, I don’t know what was in them but they looked horrid enough to perhaps work!), I’ve spooned down all sorts of hideous syrupy liquids, taken tablets, antibiotics, anti histamines ….  However, I think all of this has been a waste of time and my latest venture – to a Vietnamese lady who practises traditional Chinese medicine – pretty much sums up the state of play.

After listening carefully to everything I have tried so far (and to be fair, only giving the very faintest of smiles), looking at my tongue, taking my pulse and blood pressure and then feeling around various key parts of the body she gave her diagnosis:  My body was fighting itself, it is not in harmony and really the fighting is too much.  So, I must start yoga, only eat food that is fresh and in season, gargle and sniff sterilised salt water twice a day, take exercise, relax more and stop struggling against my own body but let it find it’s own path to healing.

And the bill?  A big fat Xero.  She said there was no charge for her advice because really it was just common sense that I had forgotten and there is nothing wrong with me that my body won’t sort out for itself if I just give it a chance and lay off all the medicines.

A tip here that could result in some impressive savings for the National Health system in the UK perhaps?!

Paying Our Respects

“Today madam we should pay our respects to the landlord’s mother” announced Chi. Great I thought, having been bitterly disappointed that we missed out on the actual funeral a few days earlier. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not somebody who delights in death or bearing witness to another’s sorrow. In fact I have probably caused more harm along the way with my complete horror of causing pain to another person – with the things not said and the actions not taken – than any mischief I might have carried out intentionally.
No, my delight is because I am intrigued by how others do things. How they conduct the rituals of life and how we learn what is expected of us simply by ‘being there’. And what better way to observe, at least a small part of, the rituals surrounding death here in Vietnam than by going along to pay my respects to a lady I have never met, for a man I never knew?

Despite being acutely aware of how little I know about Vietnamese societal norms, one thing is for sure – I can recognise a mother’s pain in any language and can think of nothing worse than the raw agony of losing your child, no matter how old they are.

Chi explained that we should take fruit and an envelope each on which we must write some words of condolence. It was agreed that I should write what I would in the UK to someone I didn’t know and so, conscious of the need to translate it too, I opted for a rather bland:

We are very sorry for your loss.
Warm wishes, Kevin and Karen

Into the envelope we were to put 100,000 Vnd per person (i.e. 200,000 in my envelope and 100,000 in Chi’s – which she refused to let me pay)
At 2p.m., which Chi considered to be the right time to visit, she called our landlord and landlady and, getting no reply, set off next door to find out what time would be convenient.
The mother was there but about to go back to her own house along the alley. A few minutes later and Chi’s ‘phone rang to signal that we should set off. Walking Sally through all the inter-connecting lanes on a daily basis, I already knew the house to which we should make our way but the landlord’s 23-year old son was waiting at our gate to escort us.

On arriving Chi pushed me forward saying: “You are older than me, you must go first”. So there I was, straight into the front room as is typical in Vietnamese houses. The grieving mother looked to be in her 80s but I find local people incredibly difficult to age accurately.
We were handed a plate on which Chi arranged our envelopes and the fruit (grapes the size of golf balls because as Chi said: “They will be offered to other visitors and everyone will know that they were brought by the ‘tay’ – the foreigners”) This she then placed on the altar where we stood side by side with hands raised, flat together in a symbol of respect and prayer. We dipped our hands three times before the photo of the deceased, made a small bow and sat on the hard wooden chairs beloved of Hanoians, to chat about the deceased take tea and eat fruit. (I learned that the Vietnamese way to eat a banana is to snap it in the middle and delicately unpeel one half at a time eating it as you unpeel. My rather ungainly and faintly obscene ‘Western’ way had me cursing the previous visitors for not having had the foresight to have taken grapes too)
The mother, my landlady and the deceased’s sister all sat with us chatting, with Chi translating, bridging the divide and asking all the questions I longed to ask but would have felt to be impolite even if I could speak Vietnamese. (They have no such qualms and to say that they ‘call a spade a spade’ would be under-emphasising just how blunt they truly are). The old lady started to cry and kept saying “Cam On” (thank you) over and over. Chi explained that she was so moved that I had taken the time to visit and that the whole family are most grateful to Kevin and me for caring about them. I confess I felt slightly guilty at just how fascinating a pleasure this visit was for me and muttered the obligatory platitudes, you’re welcome, it’s nothing …..

And so to the deceased. He was the youngest of her children born in 1969, making him 42 at the time of death, which everyone agreed was far too young. He was diagnosed with throat cancer 6 months ago and had whatever treatment could be offered here. Towards the end he was ‘so sick he could not eat rice’ Chi confirmed solemnly. Anyone who has been to Vietnam will immediately discern just how truly dreadful was his condition as, for most of the population rice is eaten and enjoyed three times a day, every day. He was conscious when he died but very weak having existed on just water, yogurt and milk for several weeks. His illness did not unfortunately take away his appetite and he begged for food right up to the end, knowing as he did so that he could not possibly swallow anything with any substance. Surrounded by his entire family; mother, brother, sister, nephews, nieces and the collective spouses, he passed away peacefully on Monday.
We all agreed that this was a blessing, that he was a very handsome man and that he had a lovely smile.

Chi explained that the family must continue to feed him for 49 days which was slightly disconcerting until I realised that this is done by leaving his meals on the altar for him to enjoy, along with his favourite brand of Hanoi vodka, soft drinks and cigarettes. Prior to his illness, he had been a heavy smoker so his relatives must ensure that during this mourning period he enjoy a continuous supply of cigarettes, lit for him and placed between the incense sticks in a manner that seemed sickeningly close to a replica graveyard with its burnt out stubs sticking into the air almost mockingly.
During this 49 day period the daughter and daughter-in-law will take turns on alternate days to feed the mother before she moves in next door permanently on the 50th day.

With the niceties over we took our leave to more ‘cam on’ing and squeezing of hands and, once outside the door the sister invited Kevin and I to her restaurant, just near where we all live and my landlady begged me to teach her English in exchange for Vietnamese classes from her.
The son escorted us on the return trip with Chi confessing that she had not been that way along the alley before (despite admitting to me earlier in the day that she had lived not 5 minutes walk from my house for 10 years during her marriage!) and the son laughed and said that everyone knows me because I walk through there every day with my dog. As she opened our gate Chi said how lucky it was that the deceased had no children of his own. Thinking how difficult it would be for them to lose a father I agreed with a sympathetic nod only to be brought up short when she said “The landlord must now look after his mother and if there were children he should pay everything for them too, at his own expense. Yes it is very good, I think so, that he had no children. Very luckeeee.”

Well now I would never think of not having children as being lucky, although I can see her point. Even in death, life must go on.

When Being Dissatisfied’s a Good Thing

One of the things I was particularly looking forward to about moving to a completely new place was the feeling that I would suddenly have more time. Back in the UK I managed to fill all my time – with a combination of work and leisure activities – so that I never seemed to have the time to take on anything new or even ‘enough’ time to do some of my activities to the extent that I wanted to.

In Vietnam though I felt that things would be different. For one thing I wouldn’t have friends and family around and although I love spending time with them all, without their presence I should, in theory have spare time.

Five months in and that just doesn’t seem to be the case. My husband reckons that the day I die I’ll still be complaining that I haven’t got, or haven’t had, time to do everything I want to do. Maybe he’s right, maybe I am just one of those people who is constantly dissatisfied. But I don’t actually think that’s what he meant. I think he meant it as a compliment. He often says that I have an insatiable curiosity and interest in life, a thirst that can never be quenched. Hmm.

So what exactly do I do all day?

Well let me see:

Monday – free in the morning to catch up with marketing writing and other bits of admin related to owning property that’s rented, pensions, general ‘stuff’. The afternoon I try to meet up with my writing buddy to do a couple of hours of creative writing. Walk the dog – which takes the best part of an hour and a half made up of walking for around 45 minutes, cooling her off and feeding her and showering and changing clothes. Often I cook on a Monday but Chi will have acted as sous chef so not usually too much prep to do. The evening is spent chatting to hubby and watching one of the many series we enjoy on DVD. Bed and read either one of the book group books or something I’ve chosen.

Tuesday – 9.30 – 12.00 – teaching English to a Vietnamese lady. Sometimes on the way home I’ll stop at a shop to buy some of the Western groceries that Chi doesn’t buy. Chi works all do so usually cooks on a Tuesday. In the afternoon I walk the dog earlier and then go to Lacquer class from 3 – 6p.m. Home to finish off the supper and eat with hubby.

Wednesday – 9.30 – 1.30 – Play Mah Jong with a group of International Club ladies followed by lunch. In the afternoon as I’m in town I will do any admin or buy items we need from shops in the centre. Today for example I went to find and pay the tour operator we’ve booked some forthcoming trips with. Home to walk the dog. Catch up on marketing work and keep in touch with friends/family. Cook supper and evening with hubby.

Thursday – a.m. teaching Vietnamese lady as Tuesday. If I haven’t made it to my writing buddy on Monday I go in the afternoon. Otherwise I prep for a Business English class tomorrow, read a Book Group book if I find time and play some learning sessions of Mah Jong. I do ad hoc writing work for clients in the UK in addition to retained work so often fit this in here. Walk the dog – of course. Evening – Chi works all day so cooks. I might need to do a bit of prepping but otherwise – evening with hubby.

Friday – 8.10 – 2.00 I go to hubby’s work where I teach all the Vietnamese staff Business English, followed by lunch with hubby and colleagues. Home to walk Sally followed by cooking supper if needed. Sometimes we go out on a Friday night but not always.

Saturday and Sunday – 9.30 – 12.30 on both days I teach the Vietnamese lady’s 2 young children.

So, in between these ‘set’ activities I belong to the Hanoi International Women’s Club and go to coffee mornings or other events they run; belong to two book groups and a writing group. We swim at least once a week and go probably three times a month to the independent cinema club to see a film. On average we eat out with friends once a week and I try to meet a friend for coffee or lunch once a week. We are about to buy a bike each to go cycling at the week ends and so I can do my short run journeys by bike instead of needing a taxi to get everywhere. I knit in the evenings and we sometimes listen to a story on CD but hubby usually falls asleep and I get fed up having to listen to the same chapter the next evening x about four before I refuse to hear it again and we give up! Once a month we’ll go to a cultural event – at the English book shop perhaps or a wine tasting. I write a journal and occasional blog!!!

I’ve just volunteered for a role in the HIWC Charity Bazaar annual fundraising day held at the end of November. It sounds like a pretty big role but in all honesty the work hasn’t started yet so that isn’t taking my time.

Now, what don’t I do that I want to?

Go to pilates classes every week; go with the ladies to the orphanage to teach the girls to knit/spend time with them; more creative writing; join the weekly ‘hash’ walks on a Saturday; baking; cultural things with a friend – visit more museums, pagodas etc.; some time with absolutely nothing planned; more trips and week ends away.

Some of these we’ve got planned – we will buy bikes this week end, the hash walks will start up again I guess in September, when I finish the lacquer course I’m going to use that time for the orphanage/pilates/cultural things with a friend and we’ve got number one son coming to visit next week and have two pretty full-on weeks planned of visiting Saigon, Danang, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi and Sapa.

Is my husband right – do I just want to do more things than there’s time for? Life is for living right and absolutely every component within mine has been chosen by me – how enormously priviledged am I. So none of what I’ve written is a complaint – more an observation that perhaps some of us are born to be dissatisfied – in a good way!

Home Again, Home Again …

So, we’re back in Ha Noi having spent almost three weeks travelling the length and breadth of England – with a bit of Wales thrown in for good measure!

The three and a half months between arriving in Ha Noi, in March, and going on holiday seemed to fly past and we were just beginning to find our feet when it was time to go ‘home’. Which brings to mind the question about where is ‘home’? Being an ex. pat. you become a little confused I think – home is where we live and that is Ha Noi but it’s also where those we love live and in our case that’s the UK. When we were on holiday we found ourselves talking about Ha Noi as home, partly perhaps because all our possessions are here and Sally (dog) was in kennels. Is home then where you have roots or a tie, or people? If it’s people, is it where the majority of the people you care about live? Maybe it’s wherever your heart says is home. For me, right now I have two homes: Ha Noi because it’s where my husband and Sally are and the UK because it’s where pretty much everybody else that I love and care about lives.

Our holiday had been planned around my youngest sister’s wedding celebration (the original ceremony having taken place in Noosa ) and, happily for me this coincided with Bruce Springsteen’s tour of the UK with the East Street Band. Four of us went to The Etihad Stadium in Manchester on a very bleak, wet, grey evening in June to hear the band play their hearts out for 3.5 hours. Awesome and a lesson for many of today’s ‘celebrities’ on showmanship.

It is not unusual for there to be tension or under currents at family get togethers but, unless I missed them entirely, our day was fantastic – credit to the bride and groom for their thoughtful planning I think! However, in-keeping with wedding tradition, the bride looked absolutely stunning. They say that every girl wants to be a princess on her wedding day and my sister looked every bit like a fairytale princess.

We spent the next two weeks driving like maniacs around the country visiting relatives and friends and enjoying the cool weather (I know, I know, who’d have thought I’d enjoy cool rain so much but after the humidity of Ha Noi it was sooooo refreshing!). By the time we got back on the plane we were both slightly frazzled and ready to relax – thrilled though we were to have seen so many loved ones.

The day after landing back here, we were off again. This time taking up an invitation from some great new friends to join them on a week end cruise to HaLong Bay . It is one of the 7 natural wonders of the world and breathtakingly beautiful. I will try to insert a photo at the bottom of this post.

By the time we got home on the Sunday evening we were fully relaxed having enjoyed a great holiday and a great week end. Let me just tell you a little about the group we went to HaLong Bay with though because it reflects the whole ex. pat. experience perfectly. The man who invited us is Dutch (met hubby at a networking event) married to a Vietnamese lady from Saigon. They had invited us to dinner a few weeks ago and it came out in conversation that the week end we got back from holiday was our 8th wedding anniversary. Knowing that Kevin (hubby) had been having some challenges at work and we hadn’t been out of Ha Noi yet, they suggested we join them on this cruise. Seemed like a great idea and we gratefully accepted. Over the next few weeks it transpired that the trip had been organised to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Dutchman’s sister who would be coming to Vietnam with her two children especially to celebrate the birthday. Great, what an honour to be included. So, the 12 guests were made up of: the Dutch man and his wife and young son, his uncle who was born and brought up in the States, plus American wife, his father and cousin from Holland, his sister and two daughters who live in Curacao plus Kevin and I from the UK. Internationalism at its very best eh! Even if we return to HaLong bay during our time in Vietnam I can assure you we’ll never forget our first trip. And if you haven’t been – check it out and add it to your bucket list 🙂

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