Random thoughts, comments, observations and general fluff from a random bint who left London at the end of September 2004 to embark on a new life and new adventures in Tokyo, land of the cute.... and is leaving mid-June 2010 - and counting!

Monday, January 30, 2006

What's this blog all about?

That's what I've been wondering.

When I started writing it, it was all about the preparation for moving here. The first few months were about everything new I was experiencing and seeing. But now? It feels like I've seen and experienced everything new and it's all just repeats from here-on-in.

I get up. I go / don't go / think about going to the gym. I try to cycle to the station without hitting or being hit by anyone. I cram onto a crowded train and go to work. I teach lots of students - many or whom are extremely blinkered to the world around them. I finish teaching and get back onto another crowded train. And then it all starts again the next day.

Of course, reading Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan and reading recent articles on other things (child abductions in Japan and the lack of Japan signing the Hague convention, etc), isn't really helping my frame of mind. The book though is definitely worth a read (albeit a slightly depressing one) if you want something thought and anger provoking. Suddenly a lot of things here make more sense. But enough of the maudlin stuff.

Although it does bring me nicely onto Memoirs of a Geisha, which I saw yesterday. It was lovely seeing the Japan that Alex Kerr (author of Dogs and Demons) says no longer exists anywhere outside of Hollywood... I really liked the movie, anyway. I'm not sure what the big deal about the Chinese actresses really is. The accents were dodgy BUT I thought they were good actresses, and surely that's what counts? We don't scream and yell every time an American actress pretends to be a Brit, or vice versa. Is it really so different?

Last night I went out drinking. It was fun, and I have a hangover today. The absolute highlight of my weekend though was finding a shop that sells couscous and lentils. I just cannot express how excited this made me. I've not seen either on sale since I got here. It brightened up my whole day!

And I have a dilemma: I have a few days off in March. I can't decide between going to Seoul, South Korea or going to Osaka and Himeji. I want to do both and will do both this year but for March.... I just don't know.

Oh, despite the negativity of recent posts, I have no intention of giving this all up. It's an easy life, after all and I get to indulge myself in so much travel...

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Just another Sunday

It snowed yesterday. A lot. I'm no longer excited by the sight of snow (although last February in Sapporo the snow was amazing - all light and fluffy) as it means it's cold and I have to shuffle along trying not to slip and land on my arse. I'm not disputing it's prettiness: just give me a sunny day instead please. My train to work was delayed by 9 minutes because of the snow. Disgusting.

Today - there was no more snow, and much of what had settled yesterday had melted.

On the way to a friends house in Saitama (somewhere far far away on the outskirts of Tokyo - or something) where I was heading for a pot luck lunch and lots of cocktails, the train came to a halt for about 15 minutes. Another friend, on a different train, who was also delayed told me the announcement had explained the reason for the delay was an accident...

... and that as soon as the missing body part was found the train would be on its way.

Are the concepts of 'too much information' and a 'need to know basis' really THAT hard to understand.

Anyway, the afternoon/evening/company/food/apartment/drinks were all absolutely wonderful and I'm in love with a very cute male called Leo....

Okay, he's only six months old but was absolutely adorable with the cutest face, the biggest eyes and smile, and he was all cuddly and sweet. The only time he cried while we were there was when we started playing with his toys and someone (Cecilia) decided to throw a toy at his face (he did have some great toys)...we'd have probably cried too if a big soft toy had suddenly gone flying into our face!

The whole baby thing though: I want one. I think my maternal instinct has been waking up somewhat in the last few months. Is this what the creep into middle age does to you? Has my body clock started clicking? This is very scary.


On the way home talk turned to a charity fun run at the end of May. It's a 10 or 5km run to raise money for a helpline service run in English for foreigners. Baring in mind that 50 metres would probably have me puffing like a dog on a hot day, I didn't immediately rule out the possibility of doing the 5km run. Not yet, anyway.


RIP big whale that died while they were trying to rescue it from swimming in the Thames. Very sad news.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Five Centimetres

This evening I nearly knocked two women off their bikes. I pulled up next to them, where they were waiting for the level crossing barrier to go back up, and overbalanced because of the heavy bag I had in my basket. Luckily, after knocking them slightly, I got my balance before the three of us would have ended up on the floor!

Why was my bag so heavy? Well, it was full of shopping (I'm going to a pot luck lunch on Sunday) and gym stuff.

Did you hear me? I said GYM STUFF. I finally did it. And it felt SO good. I didn't even get phased by the Japanese inputting instructions on the machines. Or the Japanese women who were a 1/4 of my size. Of course, one bonus was the lifeguide in the swimming pool, next to the elliptical I was on at one point, who kept walking around the pool. He was wearing the smallest and tightest little shorts and looked truly delicious. Now there is certainly another motivation to keep going!

Oh and the fact I'm paying and that I weigh more now than I have EVER weighed before, by a fair bit. Next session: Monday.


Five centimetres = the amount of snow expected in this part of Tokyo tomorrow. This is not good. I don't want snow. I want spring. I don't enjoy winter. It's cold.

In its favour though, unlike winter in the UK, which is often grey, dull AND cold, Tokyo winters are just cold. They are generally bright and the sun can be seen in a clear sky. It just isn't warm. I don't remember the UK ever being so cold though.


I've had a minor crush on one of my students for a while. Today he told me it's his 22nd birthday next week. We share the same Chinese horoscope (ie he's 12 years younger than me). How depressing. I felt old!


Sometimes my students say weird things and I can figure out what they are talking about. Other times I'm clueless and sometimes just scared.

This week I was doing phrasal verbs with a couple of my students. One of them decided it was okay to combine the phrasal verb 'hang up' with the noun 'the cat'.

I always wondered what that student was about. Now I'm just scared!


More news: although I had originally planned to spend three years in Tokyo, a few months ago I had changed my mind and decided to call it quits here after two years and move onto another country (with the same company though). It looks like that is not to be.

I'm going to be doing a TESOL* for four months from April. It would seem I'm then obliged, at the end of it, to commit to another six months with the company IN Japan. That takes me to next February so I'll be doing at least six months more than I (currently) want to do here.

Oh well.

*TESOL is an English teaching qualification. (No, I don't have one. You don't need one to teach in Japan).

Monday, January 16, 2006

The weekend

Today I finally joined a gym. They had a lovely English speaking receptionist there who was very patient with me asking a 1000 questions and getting her to translate almost all of their classes timetable! I feel virtuous now, and somewhat poorer.

I also managed to blitz half my flat, do a load of washing, get my bike puncture fixed, buy some clothes, buy some discs so I can put all the photos from my hard drive safely on disc in case my hard drive dies on me....

Yesterday, I went to SUMO for the second time. Reading through the literature they give out there, I now understand sumo. A bit. Kind of. It was fun anyway.

And Saturday, before catching up with a friend and spending far too much on a meal, I had another gem from a student. On talking about important decisions in life I'd got the marriage, education, housing, kinds of answers from her. She then added one of the most important decisions in life was how to control your husband. Who said Japanese women are subservient?!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Students say..

... the weirdest things some times:

These are from the last day and a half:

Pre-intermediate level. Topic - camping. We've ascertained, from the text book, that people take things like a cooking stove, sleeping bag, anorak, insect repellent, water, woolly socks, etc camping with them.

me: okay, so what other things would you take camping?
student: rice.
other student: [killed herself laughing before looking at first student like she was mad and suggesting maybe a general 'food' answer would be more appropriate.]

Elementary level. Topic - things you should and shouldn't do for various ailments and injuries. Point - a sore back:

student: you should drink water.

I let that one slip by. Next point a broken leg:

student: you should drink water.

At which point I burst into giggles of despair. She told me when she injured her arm her doctor told her to drink water. I continued laughing. There was no other comment I could make. PLEASE may I never again need a Japanese doctor.

Oh, and this was the same student who came in today telling me she had a cock. After a few times, I corrected her. (couGH)

Intermediate level. Topic - my holiday:

Student: [please note this is the first thing the student says after asking me if I had a good time in Vietnam and me saying 'amazing'] - Is it dirty?
Me: [in despair] EVERYWHERE is dirty compared to Japan.
Student: really?
Me: yes.

Foundation level. Topic - students birthday:

Me: do you have something special planned for your birthday? Party? Drinking?
Student: shopping.

And sometimes I wonder why I'm considering leaving Japan.

Although, I do have some cute and amusing moments most days too.

I teach an 18 year old boy and his mother last thing on a Thursday and have done since day one. I have to admit they are among my favourite students mainly because we laugh a lot and the lesson is fun with them. They are extremely predictable and haven't surprised me once with anything they have said in 15 months. Today we were discussing smoking. (Legal smoking age in Japan is 20).

I asked them if they smoked. They both said no. I asked the mother if she had ever smoked. She said never. I asked the son if he had ever smoked. He said almost never. It was great fun watching him realise his mistake and trying to correct himself. (The mother and I occasionally gang up on the son). I wonder if it'll be brought up again between them!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It's a funny thing...

I'm a city person. I've always been a city person. I love the diversity and the anonymity and the bustle of a city. I love being able to move around without everyone knowing my business and with nobody wanting to talk to me as I move around in my little daily dazed bubble...

So, why is it I'm missing the people in Vietnam? I miss not being able to walk more than ten steps without someone shouting at me:

"Miss, miss, you come look at my shop?"
"Moto? Moto?"
"Cyclo? Cyclo?"
"You buy cigarettes?"
"You buy lighter?"
"You buy picture?"
"You buy book?"
"You give me money?" (okay, nobody actually said that, but for the hands reaching into your face, they may as well have.)

I miss that. I miss the busy roads. I miss being narrowly missed by a moto or taxi passing inches from my face. I miss the dirty, dusty streets....

And I miss the 30 degree weather.

Still, I've just discovered the joy of heated hand pads in Tokyo: little magic pouches that you shake and that heat after an hour, and stay hot for hours, and are just lush sitting burning away inside your gloves. With a stomach full of hot Matsui food (Japanese fast food: pork, rice and hot soup) and the pads, and a heap of clothes, maybe I'll survive the Tokyo winter. I mean last night I went to bed wearing two long sleeve t-shirts (one may or may not be thermal; I've not quite figured it out), a sweatshirts, a pair of longjohns (may or may not be thermal; again, I'm not sure), a pair of pyjama bottoms, a pair of socks and a pair of legwarmers. Okay so half that lot got kicked off in the night, but that's not the point, is it?

And I am LOVING my heated carpet!

P.S. - You have to laugh at stories like this: Tokyo firemen set fire to their own fire station. - oops!

P.S.2: Please feel free to make some bloody comments on my Vietnam posts below!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Some Hoi An and My Son pictures

Everyday Hoi An scenes:

Making things the hard way:

Some cute kids posing for our cameras, near Hoi An:

Ruins at My Son:

One of many many cyclos (this one in Hoi An) and a cooking lesson:

A couple of the many communist posters to be seen around:

Monday, January 09, 2006

Mekong Delta

I did a two day trip to the Mekong Delta. I compared the tours offered by a few different operators (to the total amusement of some people I'd started nattering to in a cafe the night before who'd watched me spend a LONG time doing this, in between buying some pictures and gabbing) and basically it seemed there were ones that included cycling and ones that didn't. I rejected the cycling ones deciding it was too hot for those, and finally plumped for TNK Travel and have no complaints with them.

After passing the slums outside of Saigon we drove through the countryside.

I'll have to dig out the leaflet to remember everything but we went to Trung Luong and took a boat to Mytho through the Bao Dinh Canal and went to Mytho fruit market, took loads of boats - some bigger and motorized, others smaller and rowed by women. We spent time on the river and on canals. We saw a floating market, saw how rice, rice paper, and rice noodles were made. We watched some women weaving carpets at a very fast rate, drank honey tea and rice wine and banana wine and held a snake. We also saw them making cocunut candy and had an earsplitting musical performance to watch. We went on the Tien River to Tortoise Island and saw Dragon, Unicorn, Phoenix Islands. We also went on Thai Son Canal and to Ben Tre.

We visited several villages along the way and had to walk over a monkey bridge. I don't remember ever being so scared. I thought I was going to throw up and can't believe I didn't fall in. Basically, a monkey bridge is a series of logs across the river, a bit like a gymnastics beam. Width wise, one foot fitted on the bridge at a time. For support there was a single wobbly bamboo rail. I'll shove up a picture sooner or later! Here's one in the meantime though. And here's another one. We had no choice as the boat had been moved to the other side!

In the night we had a choice between a hotel or a homestay. I chose the homestay, and we got to eat in an orchard, sleep in bungalows on the river and see clear skies full of stars and watch fireflies darting around. And we had a tour of the village the next day before meeting up with the rest of the group. In the villlage, all the kids came out of their schools to say hello to us. It was so cute!

We got back to Saigon early evening. It was a nice calm two days and whilst I did see a lot of things that brought home a lot of reality checks, it was a nice break from the emotional intenseness of some of the rest of the trip and involved no war - well, not much anyway!


To sum up then: I had a wonderful trip. Met some lovely people - one of the benefits of travelling alone; ate some lovely things; saw things I'll never forget and basically fell in love with the country and it's character and characters. Oh and flying home, I got a perfectly clear view of Fuji, in all its splendour, from the plane. Tomorrow it's back to work.

(only nine things on my list left to do now!)


The final leg of my trip was Saigon. A dirty, polluted, midly depressing city that I totally fell for. I spent 2.5 days there and 2 days on the Mekong Delta.

I flew from Danang to Saigon, again ridiculously early, and after having one of the hotel guys take me around on his bike to find an ATM that would give me some money as I'd suddenly realised the night before I didn't have enough cash for the taxi! Again, I flew first class and arrived at the hotel around 11 / half 11. I stayed at the Yellow House Hotel (aka Nga Hoang) on De Tham Street and, whilst very central, certainly wasn't the friendliest of hotels I've ever been in. Despite me having emailed my arrival time they told me I couldn't have my room for another 90 minutes or so. I was tired and VERY unamused. They hastily found me somewhere to use in the meantime. After crashing out for about an hour I went to the lovely Reunification Palace and the War Remnants Museum. Sad, depressing, horrific, amazing, frightening, unbelievable are just some of the many words to sum up the museum. It can't be missed on a trip to the city, just accept you'll be seeing some pretty horrific things. (Think the effects of agent orange; methods of torture; pictures of bodies, etc)

I was pretty dazed after leaving it, but got cyclo'd to Andong Market, which I found a bit too intense and not too interesting.

Next day, I went and spent more money in Ben Thanh market (necklace, shirt, 9 dvd's - only 2 of which are no good) and got chatting for about 45 minutes with a cyclo driver. Realising I had just over an hour until the Fine Arts Museum reopened after lunch, I negotiated an hour with him to take me anywhere. He took me through China Town, to the Jade Pagoda, the Cathedral, and all around. The Jade Pagoda had an area with a load of turtles swimming around. Apparantly they'd all been rescued from markets and taken to the Pagoda in order to not be eaten! He pointed out loads of other things and told me about Saigon, about his life, etc. A really lovely guy, and a pleasure to spend time talking to. His name is Quang, and he hangs out around the market or outside Pho 2000.

I loved both the Fine Arts Museum and the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City and found both really interesting, despite the heat!

My final day in Saigon I spent the morning with a friend, Chris, who I'd met in Tokyo (cf: hostess bar night). Funnily, I'd been wandering around on the first night and he'd been sitting drinking at a bar and spotted me and shouted over. How random! But that's kind of what Vietnam was like. I saw many people several times, I guess because we all followed the same route, but it was funny. One Italian I'd met on the Perfume River trip I bumped into several times in Hoi An, in the Mekong (different trip from mine) and in Saigon a couple of times. Many other people I kept seeing too.

So, we hopped onto his bike and went to the Giac Lam Pagoda - massive and beautiful. They had dozens of birds in a cage there. You could pay to buy one and release it. Feeling it was just encouraging the cruelty though, we declined. After that we went to a Vietnamese Cafe. It was unlike anything I'd seen previously in Vietnam. Think two floors of lushness with a scary Santa swining on a moon wearing shorts, flipflops and sunglasses. Had a wonderful avocado drink there.

As a side, I ate so much fruit and drank so many fruit juices in Vietnam I could have burst - mainly with delight!

After lunch in a little Vietnamese nameless (to me anyway) restaurant he had to go to a meeting and I took myself off to see two movies before going back and having dinner, a haircut and another manicure. I'd had a manicure and pedicure a few nights previously but they weren't too great.

The night before, after getting back for the Mekong Delta, I'd gone for a VERY long walk to get some food in a different area and saw countless people sleeping on their motos or in their cyclo's. On the walk back, I passed the fountain on Le Loi Street near the theatre and sat down there for about 30 or so minutes. It was quite late at night, but there were loads of parents and young kids there and they were lovely to watch. Many of the kids were playing with balloons tied to sticks and dipping them into the fountain, others were just running around. They were all very very cute. And, I wasn't approached once in all the time I sat there by anyone trying to sell me books, cigarettes, lighters, posters, drinks, food, moto rides, cyclo rides, or simply even begging.

Hoi An

I'm back in Tokyo and suffering MAJOR post holiday blues: the 5 degrees of Tokyo weather to the 30 degrees of Saigon weather isn't really helping much... I had an 11 item 'to do' list for today. It's now nearly 8pm and I've done none of them.

Back to the trip though: Hoi An.

Hoi An doesn't have it's own train station or airport, so you need to go to Danang first. Of course, if you bus it you can go directly, but I didn't have time and I'd heard the Hue to Danang train route was one of the most beautiful in Vietnam. At Hue, and all along the stretch, there were no platforms, the train came into the level you were standing at. Getting on the train the carriage stank of oranges (could have been a lot worse, I know) but I had a nice window seat reserved and was forward facing. The girl next to me had the biggest bag I've ever seen stuffed in front of the two seats. She wanted me to put my feet on it. I wanted her to move it. I won. The train (the Reunification Express) absolutely crawled the route, but it was picturesque, although I didn't see many of the things I was to later see - the really bad houses, the people working the fields with oxen, etc. It took just over 2.5 hours to get there, and I got a taxi to the hotel, Green Fields. The hotel was very nice and the staff very helpful and friendly and I loved the green silk sash and flowers strewn on the bed! The hotel isn't very central though, but I was aware of that when I booked it and most of the time I walked between it and town, giving in to a motorbike only occasionally.

Hoi An is pretty. It has great architecture and a massive market and stacks of restaurants (I ate at the Blue Dragon, Ly Cafe 22 and various others I'll try and remember) and bars. I did a lot of wandering around there and watching people and on the first day it didn't even rain! I saw the Japanese covered bridge, the Phuc Kien assembly halls, Quan Cong Temple, the history and folk museum and a few other bits and pieces.

I noticed a lot of Vietnamese kids with Caucasion parents around Hoi An. I'm not sure what the significance was, but I can guess.

I shopped in Hoi An. Shopped like I have never shopped before. Hoi An, apart from being a very relaxing place, is best known for its multitude of tailor shops. I had a small list of recommened ones with me but ended up going to Thu Thuy at 60 Le Loi Street as it was the first from my list I found. I later got dragged into one (Ly Ly) in the indoor cloth market and gave in! I'm pleased with everything I got from both, namely: one suit, one pair of work trousers, three work shirts, one pair of corduroy trousers (Thu Thuy) and one pair of casual trousers, one pair of 3/4 length trousers, a pair of silk trousers and a beautiful silk top (Ly Ly). I also got two pairs of shoes made from a shoe shop. I bought another shirt and a necklace in Saigon to complete my clothes shopping - and shit was it heavy to carry back - I had to buy a bag especially. Oh, I forgot the 6 bags and 3 scarves I also bought in Hoi An and a double edged knife and special peeler that gives very long strips of peelings that I bought after a fun cooking course, where we learned about five different dishes and ate them all afterwards!

New Years Eve was going to be quiet, but I got chatting with an Aussie, Rachel, who also works in Tokyo (there were a lot of teachers from here over there) while in a cafe and we ended up hanging out and having a really fun time. She had a half bottle of champagne so we started out with that, then hit a restaurant for a lovely meal. There was another girl in there sitting by herself and we were giving her five minutes to see if she was being joined by anyone before inviting her to join us. Some other girls beat us to it though and she joined them. Unfortunately for her. One of their group became ill and went home, escorted by one of the others who returned. When the restaurant gave them the bill (and to say Vietnam is cheap to us is an understatement) they refused to pay for the girls food saying they didn't really know her and she wasn't their friend. We could see how upset and stressed the restaurant staff were getting as they were having to deal with this. The girl I was with went and spoke to them, but they maintained they didn't know the girl...

Anyway, the girl who'd been alone came and joined us and hung with us for the rest of the night. The restaurant we'd chosen had a bar downstairs and it was kicking! There's been rumbles about there being a street party, but it wasn't where it was meant to be so we stayed put in the bar which was packed! It was great fun and I staggered onto a bike around half one.

Two days later I did a trip to the ruins at My Son which, despite the weather, were amazing. And would have been even more so if they'd not been destroyed in the bombings... but enough of that. Again, something I'd recommend.

There was something else I did in Hoi An that I've dithered about writing or not writing about on this blog, but I will. When I first started thinking about Vietnam I'd thought about orphanages but decided to drop the idea. In Hoi An, in an internet cafe, was a poster advertising visiting hours for Hoi An orphanage. I mentioned this to Rachel, but said I really wasn't sure about it. She said she was also interested so we went along. I can't really exlain how it left me feeling.

We were hovering by the entrance deciding whether or not to change our minds, when one of the Vietnamese directors came over and called us in. He pointed us over to a group of girls and we went and chatted to them for a bit. A couple of them had pretty good English and they were very close to each other - hell, they were picking nits out of each others hair. We did see a three year old (they said she was three, but she was very small) in the process of being adopted by a couple sitting in the office there which was nice but also kind of sad because we knew the likelihood of the older ones being wanted was so low and who knows what will become of them when they have to leave the orphanage. The director then took us around the orphanage, through the sleeping areas, the disabled kids room, the eating area. Then we gave some money and left.

It was so drab there. So grey. I mean I know paying for staff, schooling, food, doctors, etc is the most important thing, but I just couldn't help feeling how much difference a load of paint would make to the kids and their living environment... and getting them involved in chosing colours for their rooms, helping paint it, etc. Oh well, that's just me. (Any 'Changing Rooms' producers read this blog?) One thing I do intend to do is get a little package together to send them - of little things - hair accessories, inflatable balls, that kind of thing. Again, not a priority in the day to day running of these places - but I can imagine how much the kids will like stuff like that. If I could do more I would. Anyway, if I sound a bit blase about the whole thing, I'm not. I just can't express how it made me feel.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Hue - 2

If I had to say what the highlights of this trip are I don't think I could. There have been too many of them. This day was definitely one of them though. I took a trip to the DMZ and Vinh Moc Tunnels (again, go google or look in a travel guide if you want the history) and it was a pretty mindblowing and humbling day.

We drove though a lot of countryside and saw people working in their little fields, ploughing with buffalo and oxen and going about their business in their little villages, carrying huge quantities of goods over their shoulders or hand-pulling laden carts or cycling weighted down bikes. I think it's quite easy to forget how easy we really have it, not having to do back breaking work, not having to work outside in bad weather conditions for long hours, etc.

I've gone through quite a few soul searching moments on this trip, as I'm sure have other people who've travelled in this part of the world, but anyway...

We drove all around the DMZ through Highways 1 and 9 and saw Dong Ha Town (where the bombing started), the Ben Hai River, Hien Luong Bridge, Rockpile Mountain, Da Krang Bridge, the Ho Chi Minh trail, several villages, the Khe Sanh Combat base and the very eerie Vinh Moc Tunnels, which we spent 20 minutes down, but which people lived in. When we came out of the tunnels we came out an exit overlooking a lovely beach. There were loads of local kids at the exit trying to sell drinks.

It was all extremely informative and pretty hard to even imagine slightly what conditions and fear levels must have been like here during the American War.

In all it was a 12 hour day and the guide was very good, clear and well-informed. I learned a lot and definitely recommend the trip. The day before I'd asked some people if they were doing the DMZ tour (which, by the way, you can do from either Hue or Hoi An) and one said, no, they were avoiding all the war stuff. Too bad.

For a second night I decided I couldn't be arsed to go out and explore Hue by rainy night. I did see some from back of bikes though and took my first cyclo going back to the hotel when I got dropped off from the tour. The cyclo was fun too but, in Hue, I enjoyed the motobikes more.

(In the hotel restaurant they played Eternal Flame. In Vietnamese.)

Hue - 1

I spent two days based in Hue.

Arriving in nasty rain as soon as I got to the hotel (Thanh Noi) I asked about trips and booked onto two there and then. So as interesting as I'm sure it would have been to have wandered around Hue, I didn't. I did, however, do some of the main things I'd planned to do from there, namely going to the temples and pagodas along the Perfume River, and going to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) and the Vinh Moc Tunnels.

I checked in at 7.45am and was on a moto being whizzed to the boat 15 minutes later (yes, I had got up at 4am). The moto fear disappeared straight away and I've done a zillion of them since. The cruise was nice and relaxing, although it was raining most of the time. Still, I had my wonder cape, which lost one arm so I bought another wonder cape. The people on the trip were good fun too although it was a bit of a shame the people running the tour weren't able to give us any information about anything.

We stopped several times to see the wonderful Thien Mu Pagoda, the mausoleum of King Tu Duc, Hon Chin Temple, the mausoleum of King Minh Mang and the mausoleum of King Khai Dinh. One of them we decided to not go into and just walked around the outside. I don't remember which one though! We had lunch on the boat and got back to Hue for around 3pm. I had a wander up to the cathedral but it was raining heavily and I was pretty tired, so I got a moto back to the hotel. Oh, and two of the places we visited we had to be biked to and from, so from being afraid, I actually ended up having six of them. Good fun.

There were interesting restaurants I wanted to try in Hue, but I just wanted to go and collapse. Plus the next day was also going to be an early start. After eating in the hotel restaurant I ended up having another massage and a little steam. The masseuse got up on the table. I've never experienced that before.

I slept well!

Free access again!

In Hue and Hoi An I couldn't access my blog for some reason, but I'm in Saigon now, so all is well again - except that I have a hell of a lot to try and remember and I only kept a sporadic written journal. Anyway, here's what I can remember:

The rest of the time in Hanoi: When I got back from my meal I started chatting again with a Canadian woman I'd talked to before going off for the drink and meal and we hung out together the next day, both proudly wearing our brightly coloured tents - er, I mean raincape things. Now I have to add that these are ALL the rage in Vietnam and I intend to arm myself with 8 or so to take back to Tokyo. (They're cheap and crap quality and fall apart, but will be perfect in the Japanese rain).

We went straight to see Uncle Ho in all his pickled glory in his Mausoleum. Except that we approached the compound from the wrong end and had to walk a very long way round and not step on the grass. We kept getting waggled at by the guard. We queued - in 2's, then in single file - to go through xray. I was allowed to keep my bag (which even after xray was searched a further four times), but had to surrender my camera whilst in the Mausoleum. We kept getting told where, on the ridiculously wide pavement, exactly to walk. Seemed unneccessarily pedantic, but I guess that's how you keep people employed.

Entering the mausoleum we had a red carpet to walk (silently) on. We all traipsed past the rather eerie pickled ex-president, complete with hands in a very unnaturally bent position, wrinkles and all. I did wonder why they didn't just replace him with a wax model instead of re-pickling him in Russia every year, but hey! From there, and after picking up my camera, we followed the dictated route around the grounds and saw the Presidential Palace, Stilt House, One Pillar Pagoda, Don Hieu Pagoda and the Ho Chi Minh Museum (all in the rain, by the way!).

The museum was a bit odd - a very eclectic mix of modern art and historical documents, photos, things belonging to Ho Chi Minh, etc. We left feeling a bit baffled but figured we'd learn a lot more at the History Museum, which we ended up not going to. We didn't make it to the Prison Museum either or the Cathedral - but I did see the cathedral all lit up the night before.

After thoroughly doing Ho - ie it was 11.30 so everything shut - we went to KOTO. I'd not expected it to be so big. The food was wonderful though, and so was the service so I do recommend it. From there we staggered over the road to the Temple of Literature (now, I'm not going into the history of all the sites I saw on my trip on here. If you're that interested, look in a Lonely Planet guide, or Google it). It was interesting in being the first university in the country, but not so interesting, in my opinion, otherwise.

Time was marching on, and so did we. I brought my Hue to Danang train ticket, once we found the right station - and we also found a lovely hidden courtyard and temple through an archway - very old and not very well cared for - lots of old statues of horses and elephants that were once bright colours, but now rather faded. There were also bright yellow tigers, a white Buddha, mozaic effect pebbled turtles and dragons, etc (in white) . Really, really lovely.

We'd already decided we didn't want to do anything else in the sightseeing line, so headed back to the hotel, after a beer in the rather UNatmospheric Kangaroo cafe.

My foot had started to hurt somewhere along the line in the afternoon so I was limping a bit. After a short stop, we left the hotel again and went and had a wonderful body massage in a beauty salon in the Old Quarter near the Little Hanoi Restaurants (a few streets over from Hang Ga). It was wonderful! Then, after a bite at one on the Little Hanoi restaurants we headed back to the hotel, where I set my alarm for 4am!

The next day I flew to Hue. As there was no option, I flew business class. Well, it was a grand total of about US$10 more so not such a biggie. Although it did mean I got to check in without queueing, got to use the business lounge and eat and drink all the freebies, got to board last and have a nice wide seat, get a table cloth, lots of hot towels (the flight was only one hour), a stack of drinks and little breakfast nibbles. I took a window seat - I usually have aisle seats but figured this would be more fun this time. We also got bussed to the terminal in Hue - a total of about 15 metres. VERY funny!

The drive to the airport was nice. I got up at 4am and left the hotel at 4.30am. Around the hotel, in the Old Quarter, it was really quiet and the streets were almost empty. As we moved further away I saw handfuls of people outside restaurants, washing vegetables and rice, talking, gambling. Further on, just before the highway was totally different: clusters and clusters of people - dozens of them going about their (very) early morning business of moving things around, setting up their stalls, buying and selling foods, standing, talking.. There was a real buzz about it.

Okay, I'll try and get Hue, Hoi An and my first Saigon day typed up tomorrow.