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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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A Fruity Rock God

I alluded in my last entry to things here not being as they first appear and that doesn’t only apply to the shops.  When Chi arrived one morning with these fruit I was particularly delighted because they are everywhere at the moment – every fruit barrow worth it’s salt is laden with them.

Unfortunately I had no idea what they were or even if they were sweet or savoury – the lines blur in this respect here too in Vietnam I think!  Anyway I was just on the verge of buying some to experiment on when a bagful arrived with a grinning Chi one morning.  “You lie dese, yes I tin so madam” she declared cheerfully and I was able to match her enthusiasm whilst still admitting to my own ignorance.  She was completely taken aback that I’d never had them before and declared that in English they’re called Mangosteen.

My enthusiasm, already pretty high, ramped up a level – Mango; my (until that moment maybe?) favourite fruit; and Springsteen; my rock idol.  Could things possibly get any better?  Oh yes my friends – the taste.  Sublime and all the other superlatives you can conjure.  Now I don’t know about your household habits but in ours, and thinking about it in my childhood home too I’m pretty sure, there’s an unwritten rule which states that any fruit that needs peeling, cutting or preparing in any way can only be done so by me (or my mother when a child).  I don’t remember quite where this rule came from and have always found it rather irritating – come on guys those ‘easy peel’ clementines aren’t hard for heaven sake.  Anyway, the world order continues in Hanoi where some form of payback has been achieved.  I know what the outside of a Dragon Fruit looks like, I can distinguish between sweet and sour mangoes and yes, I recognise (and know how to ‘unlock’) a mangosteen.

As I prepared our post-evening-meal bowl of fruit, with hubby distractedly playing word games on the computer, I remembered Michel Roux Jnr. exhorting the Masterchef contestants to: ‘Always taste your food.  Never serve food you haven’t tasted.’  Who am I to argue with the great man?  So I tasted the first mangosteen.  Yep, it was delicious.  I tasted the second mangosteen, equally gorgeous.  Nine mangosteen later, realising I was down to the last fruit a dilemma seized me of epic proportions.  Do I: a) eat the last one and hope hubby doesn’t notice, b) declare it unfit to eat, c) put it back in the fridge for later and peel a couple of oranges instead or d) dutifully share ‘my’ last mangosteen with my husband?

Chi:  “I like these, yes I think so”  (and so does Kevin!)