Monthly Archives: August 2015

Last night in Vietnam

I’m not sure if I ever told you the night I met the Nigerians playing soccer for a Vietnamese team?

I’d spent the last two weeks poking around Vietnam from south to north and had now flown south again in an attempt to get back out the country. At least, I think that is what I was doing. If it was, it means I stalked a group of Singaporeans across three cities and two airplane flights – my memory is fuzzy on this.

Either way, it was my last night in the country. I had settled into a cheap little hotel and ventured out in the early evening to find something to eat. After making some wishy washy attempt at this (and I know it was because I can’t recall the meal and my memories of places are dictated by what I ate there), it was still early. I felt, although I was heartily sick of the bartering for any purchase, the traffic and the chaos, I should appreciate being where I might never be again.

I walked down some random side road because it looked more peaceful and went from chaos to the stillness of a street lined with industrial buildings that had shut down in the night. It was deathly quiet, eerie in a city that didn’t seem to sleep. The only people on it were four large black guys.

I walked faster.

This is not racism. I would have felt intimated regardless by their height in a country of short people. Also, they were clearly foreign and, quite frankly, a rarity where most tourists who were not oriental turned out to be from Australia and America and were usually paler skinned. Unusual people on quiet streets you don’t know make me nervous regardless of who they are.

Anyway, they started yelling, ‘Hey, Brasil’. I turn around. Twice. Like a ballerina. Realise they mean me. Oh. I am wearing a green shirt that says, ‘Brasil’.

Ah.

Explain I am not from Brazil, I am South African because now, you see, they have surrounded me. I could not get away.

Oh, even better. We now all had to high five each other because, you see, we were all Africans. They basically dragged me to a bar where they said they were going to have a little get together and I should so join them. I figured at least this meant I was in a lit area with other people.

The leader was a large man, run to fat. They told me they had travelled to Vietnam to play soccer for a local team, in that way internationals travel to bulk up weaker local teams. I had no idea how the leader fitted in as he didn’t look capable of jogging, never mind sprinting down a field.

He had the owner of the bar lug out a crate of warm beer and cracked one open, offering it to me and telling me sadly how much he missed his wife. Even as a Vietnamese woman in a very short red dress with lots of red lipstick curled up under his arm. (I had my doubts about this woman as the Vietnamese are a modest race, with the women tying their hair back and wearing discreet long trousers and no make up for the most part.)

I drank my warm beer. I chatted. I was very careful to keep a close eye on my beer bottle.

I tried to make my escape.

The very young one with the dreadlocks – who might actually be a footballer – insisted he walk me home.

He was polite, he was very sweet, he kissed me on the cheek and said we should stay in touch.

He looked slightly homesick, slightly sad as he stood there, at the entrance to my hotel and said goodbye.

I wished we’d met under circumstances where I wasn’t afraid his friends were trying to harvest my organs.

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Filed under anecdote, vietnam

Scales of Economy

Occasionally I morbidly contemplate what I would do if I was ever a war victim/refugee/migrant with just the clothes on my back. I am always amazed at the human spirit through the ages, where people who had everything or nothing adapt to having practically nothing or even less than what they had before. From extreme cases of many souls in one tiny room with no sanitation to stories of emigrants who worked two jobs at minimum wage to try give their children the education and upbringing they never had.

Even my parents’ generation understood sacrifice. Foregoing fancy holidays and fancy restaurants, they ate what was cheap and seasonal. They took a break on Sunday because the government legally stated work was not allowed. Even then, these ‘rest periods’ were occupied with fixing thing so you could make do with what you had rather than acquire new. With spending time with your children in simple pursuits near the home. When even a trip to the park or the airport to watch planes take off was exciting.

I look at my generation and the ones below me and I shake my head. Our dependence on convenience foods. On the assumption a holiday is ‘owed’ to us and not just a day off, but a proper flight in the air to a far flung destination. Eating out in a restaurant is the norm and oh, no, not fast food at a melamine table. Restaurants with proper cutlery and tablecloths.

The new guy at work has just driven this home, to the point where it’s not just me that has wondered how he does it.

Every day he buys lunch, saying he can ‘claim it back’ as a contractor. But given you only get part of the tax back, I always found this to be a pointless saving against just making lunch which costs less than the tax you would ‘reclaim’ and the bought lunch combined . He promptly went to Ikea and bought a load of furnishings and household goods. I know this because he landed up in a huge argument with them about delivery on the phone that I had to listen to for a week. And if you took delivery, you bought enough you couldn’t carry it home, even in a big blue bag.

He hasn’t yet opened up a local bank account or been paid via cash cheque although he has been in the country for a few weeks. Despite this and complaints that ‘everyone is travelling except me’, he’s been going out drinking and is off for the long weekend to the Fringe. (Granted accommodation is paid for there.) So all of these expenses come out an overseas bank account with added charges for forex transfer.

I can’t tell if I’m the idiot who tried to hit the ground running when I arrived from overseas and caught buses instead of trains and missed a whole series of holidays with friends as I needed to build a local bank balance first, thereby missing out on a whole series of life experiences or if he is for his carpe diem I could die tomorrow attitude.

And if the world was to explode, would he adapt or continue as he does or am I just being paranoid imagining it could?

Lo, the ant and the grasshopper.

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The Problem with Insurance

I landed up in a bit of a spat with my previous travel insurance provider. They kindly debited me renewed annual cover without telling me. To be fair, they presumably wrote to me but after refusing to move house for over five years, I seem to be migrating like a disturbed bison across the landscape of the city on a yearly basis (I blame plus one for this as I was far more ‘settled’ before him) and I missed the mail notification.

Who USES snail mail anyway? They refused to send me paper copies of my policy documents and I had to retrieve everything off the computer but they chose to POST the auto renewal notification?

I landed up trying to cancel it. There was a dodgy clause implying if I had seen a doctor or been near a hospital at all in the last year, they may exclude any treatments abroad that COULD be related to the reason I was near the hospital in the first place. In my previous experience this means if you go see someone because you sprained your wrist, insurance writes off your entire arm regardless of the fact that the doctor has now deemed you have a growth in your elbow or something, the ‘wrist injury may have been a side effect of the growth’ blah blah blah…

Acquiring a new policy proved harder than one would expect. You have to read the fine print on what is excluded. Plus one has been dying to go paragliding, despite the fact that I have a terrible fear of heights and I’d be swept off the ground on the equivalent of a huge kite with no string to ground me. This is not covered by travel insurance. (I ignored this exclusion because he has run out of money to try bully me into this activity, thank goodness.)

More importantly, one policy stated that ‘it is an unnecessary luxury used by doctors to rip off tourists that you should go to a private clinic. Our policy clearly states you will go to a public hospital where facilities and quality of care are more than adequate and often better than what you will find at a place recommended by a hotel to fleece travellers.’

HUH.

That probably is true in most of the first world. It is even true in some parts of the second and third world. But I am still offended that you think I have no choice in this and that if I was hit by a bus you would move me bleeding to a public facility so that I’m not being ripped off as a tourist?!

The fact is, if it was something minor, I’d probably just pay and not bother claim, which I have done once before in search of antibiotics for a tummy bug in South East Asia.

But if it was serious, I’d like to think my health came above someone’s bottom line.

The most I could eventually find were policies stating they kept the right to move you to a hospital of their own choosing and any claims above £500 would have to be preapproved. (Not sure who does this and how if you are unconscious)

We buy insurance for peace of mind. After reading about four or five of these policies, I felt sick in my stomach. Talk about deterrents to leaving home.

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Filed under paranoia, travel

Bag Lady

There are certain things that maketh a classy woman. All French women and Sandtonian Kugels will tell you this.

One example are shoes. You may be dressed like a hobo but if you have Jimmy Choos or at the very least Ninth Avenue West, it is not the same as a no name brand off your local factory outlet stocking out of China run by random Indian guy.

So the other day I convinced myself what I really needed was a large size buttercup yellow le Pliage handbag from Longchamp. This range is insanely popular in the square mile in London and among overseas Chinese. I also spotted it on a chair in the leafy suburbs of Johannesburg in February. The reasons we sell  ourselves these bags are brilliant are they are super light, strong, easy to clean and waterproof. They origami down so the press stud that clips over the top of the bag also keeps it neatly packed when it is folded like a little love letter, never mind that you almost never fold it down. Made up of Italian leather straps, gold zippers and thick lined synthetic materials for the actual bag part, it is not exactly the cheapest nylon bag on the market. The bags come in multiple colours and sizes and are the ‘affordable’ end of the Longchamp label which pitches at the lower end of the true luxury brands or the highest end of the medium priced ranges depending on who you speak to. (When more than the handles become leather, the price shoots up quite dramatically.) The proven popularity of this bag was when I saw someone using a small brown one for the main handbag and a large black one for a gym bag, a slightly ridiculous move because the different colours and same style just looked like she couldn’t get her act together.

In comparison you have discount stores dealing in look alike bags where the zips slide off if you pull too hard. Or they look fashionable for a few months then the ends start fraying and the colour rubs off. Charity shops sell the ubiquitous canvas A4 print bags that just about take your knitting or a notebook but not much else, with no way to close them, the thin fabric threatening to explode under weight. The middle of the range shops deal in a pot luck of trendy over comfort and longevity options, perfect for a year or so before fashions change or the bag develops an issue that causes you to lose your love affair with it in the same manner you discover that your boyfriend was not all you thought he was.

Nevertheless, I was absurdly proud of my purchase. Partly because of the very vibrant yellow because I really am the worst person when it comes to fondness of colour. The bag was large and roomy and would serve for so much practically and I bought it on sale I told myself.

I walked home with it a few days later. And saw a woman with a blue bag almost exactly the same size as mine. Hers did not zip shut so she was in danger of being pickpocketed. Her bag though was just as strong and light as mine and doing the job just as well. It was an Ikea* bag, bought for 50p probably, when she went off to buy flat pack furniture which was meant to take random household.

(Ikea* – Swedish brand known for rock bottom prices for massive warehouses of furniture and household goods, very cheap, sometimes of dubious quality as a result, NOT what super trendy people admit to owning)

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Neglect

There is apparently a news report about some parents in France who forgot their 3 year old on the side of the highway. Shock horror.

Actually, I don’t see the big deal. One of my ex’s claimed his mom once forgot him at the grocery store when she took his cousins with her and lost count of the kids. Obviously, his brother thought this was a windfall and didn’t bother point out there was one less child in the car.

My uncle would regularly have his kids sound off to make sure he hadn’t misplaced one. Even so, we cousins briefly managed to lose the younger group who were all under the age of ten at the time at the Rand Easter Show after deciding riding a roller coaster they were too small for was a good idea. Unfortunately, our independent minded younger siblings wandered off in the interim. We had a panicked half hour before they turned up again. I suppose an argument could be made why on earth the adults in charge thought it was smart to leave about thirteen children all under any legal working age in most countries with child protection laws unattended in a place like the Rand Show. My only excuse is it was a different era perhaps and that side of the family were quite big on survival of the fittest and natural selection so left us to our own devices quite a lot.

This never did explain my mother however. I remember calling her before the days of mobile phones being the norm. She answered and went ‘Who is this?’ and then ‘How are you calling me?’ At which point I almost lost it and pointed out OBVIOUSLY I wasn’t in the house and would not be home for lunch because she had forgotten to pick me up at the shopping centre and this was a public telephone. This was only a few months after she’d done exactly the same thing at the school (which was an occurrence that I was to undergo about three times vs my siblings none – I don’t know if she was trying to tell me something). The school had actually been worse as it had involved being completely alone in falling darkness, even the maintenance staff having left and having to knock on doors to try please ask if I could call my home as the ticky box was now locked up too and I didn’t have any money anyways as I didn’t expect to be there then.

On these occasions the reaction was similar. It was somehow my fault that they had neglected to pick me up after telling me I should wait for a later lifting time because my siblings needed to be dropped off all over town first and I could ‘work in the library’ were the exact words rather than sit in a hot car. Of course, once everyone arrived home, noone actually said someone is missing. It was the same accusatory attitude I was inconveniencing supper by not being present.

My parents were not bad parents. But scatty. So scatty. A lesson in survival if nothing else. And an era when these things were possible. I have no doubt if this had happened today I would probably be in foster care.

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How fast we forget

I was reading a news report this morning about a woman who was stoned to death in Afghanistan. She was wrongly accused of burning the Koran and a lynch mob killed her in a terrible animal fashion. The media went crazy and Afghan women stood up in protest. Now many of the killer mob arrested at the time, a year down the line, are already being released, their crime swept under a rug.

It’s like Cecil the lion. All this fuss and bother about his terrible illegal painful death (and it was) and now nothing. Nothing except the fact that parts of the world will really condemn any form of game hunting now and parts of the world will just carry on as before but be more aware they need to be above board.

The fact is the human condition is such an immediate thing. We really only relate to our current circumstances. Every time I sit in a dentist chair it is the longest hour or so of my life. I swear I will always floss and brush two to three times a day. I will forsake coffee and sugary treats. Yet, three hours later I am chomping on a piece of cake with a coffee in my hand.

It’s a safety mechanism that allows us to survive.That we have to forget the terrible to move on. If you can’t move on you do get trapped in years of therapy if you are lucky or just as a very broken screwed up individual if you are not.

Of course it is good to remember the past. A grocery store in New York handing me a plastic bag this year with the twin towers on it and the phrase ‘never forgotten’ in the same size font as the store itself. Memorial poppy wreaths and the Queen in London on Remembrance Day for the world wars. South Africa celebrating Mandela – his life and death.

But it’s no good remembering the past if you aren’t going to learn from it. Human history really has got a terrible tendency of repeating itself.

I was wondering today with that new and ridiculous Pixel movie due out soon what aliens would really think of us. We (mis)interpret them as either really benevolent or malevolent as glorified images of ourselves with better transportation vehicles. Who knows what they really think of us. Probably that we are a vicious and malicious primitive race. Personally, I think they pluck us off the earth and feast off us like foie gras morsels, fed with fast food to glorious fattiness.

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Filed under modern living, news, Relationships