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43 hours and counting…

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

by Rachael
from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam….heading northwards


A smallish hill rises steeply in silhouette from the vast flat rice paddy plain. But it’s the background that grabs my attention and takes my breath away. The black night merges into indigo blue and a stunning display of deep pink and purple grandeur sweeps across the sky. Never before have I witnessed such a rich sunrise. Raw beauty. An exclamation of praise.

The colours faded and the sky lightened, revealing surprises and prompting reminiscences.
“Look Mama! I still like seeing water buffalo wallowing in the mud.”
“Look at that Mum. It looks like the Plain of Jars.” Only this time the huge boulders dotting the landscape were not manmade.
“Look at that Mama! It looks like the Killing Fields.” Will every leafy orchard be doomed to be such a grim reminder for Tgirl4?

Peering through the other window we’d have thought we were not in Cambodia or Laos, but in Mexico. Cacti struggled up out of sandy soil and square concrete houses stood in clusters. Although they appeared flat-roofed, the roofs actually sloped down at the back, disguised by uniformly high sides of the houses.
Were we really in Vietnam?
Ah yes, we were. Conical hats on almost every head set these rice paddies apart from all the others we have seen, journeyed past, walked through. But like the others, these ones were being tended by bent-in-half women, and had boys and men leading oxen along the raised dirt paths separating one paddy from the next.
Variations on this view would continue all day long, all the way to the gentle pink sunset out the other side of the train. It was a view that would be broken by occasional forays through dark tunnels, even less frequent sightings of built-up communities, welcome glimpses of the coast, complete with blue and red fishing boats moored in quiet bays, and colourfully painted concrete tombs standing in the fields as reminders of the past.

On we travel through the darkness, up along the South China Sea coast, a mere 50km away from the Lao border. Northwards, northwards, clickety-clacking along the tracks, the carriages swaying from side to side.


Friday, January 30th, 2009

by one of the children’s primary educators
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, about to travel north

Before we set out, one of the frequent questions was, “What will you do about the kids’ schooling?” It’s hard to answer that question honestly without looking careless. You see, other than knowing we would miss books, I had no concerns. I was certain the learning would take care of itself. You cannot stop children learning.

What I did not know is that ER2 would still be saying “Thank you” in Khmer to every non-white face when we had already been in Vietnam a week.
(Note to self: teach her to switch to the Vietnamese “kum-ing”)
I did not know this would be the year academics-averse-son would wake up one day wanting to know how to do square roots and then over the next few days learn all his times tables.
I did not know the little bodies would get Dadda drawing in their journals and that they would then enjoy scratching over his sketchings.
I suspected everyone would miss cooking, and I guessed Kgirl10 would be the one to pay careful attention to the ingredients going in to our meals. This turned out to be true, especially for the meals prepared on the street in front of us.
I had an inkling they all might write more, but I had no idea just how much.
Jgirl14 has recently completed the final draft of a multi-page business proposal (including a ten year plan) for establishing a farm.
Kboy11 has also worked through a number of business proposals, none of which returns enough profit to be considered worth his while pursuing 🙂
With his older brother, he has designed some watches and written advertising campaigns for them. At Mr H’s suggestion, they designed new-and-improved tuktuks in Cambodia too.
The four eldest have each designed a house for if we buy a block of land after the trip! (inspired by J14’s business I think….and perhaps even the different houses we have seen).
Lboy8 has stopped sprinkling capital letters randomly through his writing.
He and Mboy6 continue to converse almost daily in the little Lao they picked up. We didn’t know we would all end up liking Lao. We certainly had no idea just how much we would learn. And that we would remember it. (M6 and Tgirl4 still sing a song they learnt at the book party, not that they know what it means).
I didn’t know T4 would become an expert at UNO and SET. Neither did I know just how long it would take them all to learn that if you cry out, “Cheat” the game will be stopped and everyone declared a loser. But perhaps I should have 😉
I didn’t know that ER2 would charge everyone 20 baht in her shopping games for a couple of months and then switch to “50,000 dollars or kip, you choose, 50,000”.

So I sit here writing this just before we hop on a train at 10pm. We will travel all night, tomorrow, a second night and another full day. We will disembark in Hanoi. It will be winter. The children have learnt about tropical thunderstorms and monsoon and dry season and 40 degrees Celsius….now we will move on to learning about cold and snow. We have learnt about chitchats and monitor lizards and elephants. Coming up will be horses and cows. We have learnt about Pol Pot and French conquests….it’s nearly time to remember our readings of Genghis Khan.
Communism, war, worship, consumerism, town planning, poverty, pollution, racism, food production, societal structures, sustainable living, eco-systems…..we’ve engaged with all these ideas in the past nearly-four months.

See why I wasn’t worried about learning?
And I’m not worried about spending the next two days on a train doing nothing with the kids, even if they don’t get out the maths textbook.
I’m sure they’ll learn something (maybe how to say thank you in Vietnamese).


Thursday, January 29th, 2009
Vung Tau to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam  Boy was Vung Tau buzzing this morning! People were arriving by the minute. Breakfasters spilled out of eateries onto temporary tables set up beside the road. Walking along the street felt like ... [Continue reading this entry]

It’s the beach, Jim, but not as we know it…

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009
Vung Tau, Vietnam  Black flags on long poles flapping in the water indicate the beach is dangerous. Signs telling you "what to do if you hear the tsunami siren" leave a sense of dark foreboding! Oil globs washed up on ... [Continue reading this entry]

another day at the beach

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
Vung Tau, Vietnam  To my two eldest children, I love it when I make a comment in passing and you rise to the challenge presented. Even better when I'm allowed to copy out your journal entries for the blog! The comment: I wonder ... [Continue reading this entry]

beach day

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Vung Tau, Vietnam 


So where in the world are we? On the South China Sea, at a little seaside town called Vung ... [Continue reading this entry]


Sunday, January 25th, 2009
by Rach Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau, Vietnam The other day we had to wait while Rob went two minutes round the corner to the bus company office. Over an hour later he returned. Then we needed to wait ... [Continue reading this entry]

happy new year (again)

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 

The Saigon buzz energises. There are flashing lights and flying flags, highrise buildings and narrow alleys of intrigue, delightful boutiques and noodle stalls.

[Continue reading this entry]

Good Morning Vietnam! (or motorbike mishaps)

Friday, January 23rd, 2009
by Rob, the owner of only one motorbike, and even that did not go Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam


As soon as we crossed the border we knew Vietnam ... [Continue reading this entry]

How will we remember Cambodia?

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009
The unedited answer elicited from the family over dinner a few nights back Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

very dirty rip you off-y public urinal beggars busy barking dogs honking horns heavy-handed on horns! smelly drains affectionate people tuktuks baskets on heads squat a lot tropical fruit feast angkor amazing itinerant ... [Continue reading this entry]