Wednesday, 7 December 2016


28th Nov 2016

It's that time of year again and having developed an increasing distaste, now almost a paranoia, for all the ghastly 'festive' commercial pressures, incessant advertising of useless 'must have' gifts and enforced jollity, I have decided again to do a runner; my annual 'Chrexit' plan. It all starts nowadays at the beginning of October which is no doubt a (futile) attempt to try to catch us Chrexiteers before we can escape. If as much expense was lavished on public services as is squandered on trivial urban decorations, advertising and money spent by over-generous parents on undeserving sprogs we would all be a lot better off.
Amongst the plethora of unsolicited junk mail containing adverts for Christmas 'gifts' I have received was a heavy glossy magazine supplement in my Saturday newspaper. This advertised amongst much other tat a watch selling for £431,000. What! It told the time, whoopee...but for £431,000? You can buy a smart house or small estate for that. Also, a small wool and calfskin handbag for £6,320 which presumably, if you took it out in the rain and it got wet, it would shrink. Most extraordinarily it showed a 'Berluti Venezia leather-trimmed wooden beach bat and ball' for sale at £330. I have never heard of a 'beach bat' before; what on earth do you do with it? One bat, one ball...  I can't see what the point is. Presumably you hit the ball with it up into the air, and hope that some other daft idiot has also spent £330 on another bat to return it, but then his ball would be redundant. The whole thing defies the imagination....let alone spending £330 on it. There must indeed be many people out there with considerably more money than sense. I remember having fun on a Northumbrian beach in arctic temperatures where our only sources of amusement were an inflated inner tube, a small fishing net and a bucket and spade with which to make sand-castles and try to bury father when he was asleep, and we got sand encrusted jam sandwiches to eat with our picnic. It was great fun and didn't involve splashing out £330 on a sodding leather-trimmed beach bat! Things must have changed.
.....and while on the subject, what is all this 'Black Friday' stuff? Another marketing scam I suppose to titillate the appetite of the greedy and fuel the bank accounts of wealthy merchants. I give up.

Nothing like a good rant to make you feel better. Have now arrived in be continued.

Arrived in Saigon early morning of 4th Dec. For once the Vietnam Airlines flight departed and arrived spot on time. Not a bad journey with reasonable food/wine and some newspapers to read and films to watch and some kip. I had the aisle seat for the 12 hour flight with a middle aged English couple sitting window side. I choose to sit at the aisle so I can easily get up and wander around and use the loo without having to climb past the other pax. However, what is it about some people who seem to have to go to the loo every couple of hours. I went twice during the flight, but this English couple, who were perfectly charming in every other way, had to get up, and therefore so did I, to go to the 'toilet' no fewer than 7 times! You can't win.

Nothing much changes in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon in essence, but the place is a constant building site with old buildings being demolished and new ones erected. This is compounded in the city centre (District 1) where there is ongoing construction of a new cross-city Metro system; a Vietnamese/Japanese project. I am told it is due to be completed 'sometime in the future'. The only serious change, if only a minor construction, is adjacent to the beautiful and iconic French-built main post-office across the road from the Roman Catholic Cathedral. Within the last year they have put another goddamned MacDonalds there. This is desecration at its worst! As mentioned in my blog from this time last year, the first MacDonalds opened in HCMC on the eastern end of Dien Bien Phu Street in 2014. Of course once they have a toe hold they spread like a rash. I expect there are now more of these monstrosities in other parts of the city; symbols of American influence and decadence which gradually fatten and poison the local population. There is also a noticeable increase in the number of cars on the roads; often enormous expensive 4x4s and flash Mercs and BMWs which can never travel at more than 10mph. They are bought purely as status-symbols. As a result even more congestion and traffic jams. Their owners probably also buy £330 leather-trimmed beach bats. This city is not constructed for cars; it is designed for scooters and bicycles. If the number of cars could be reduced all would be fine. But they won't be reduced, they will increase and consequently more road construction and disruption ad infinitum. Sounds remarkably similar to our traffic problem in UK.

Left: The MacDonalds excrescence at the far end of the Post Office. Actually, they did a good job blending the architecture in with the same style, but it still has that tasteless sign on it to ruin the effect

Right: I would like to put a few of these on an army firing range as targets. It would give me the greatest pleasure to blast them to bits with a machine gun.

I do not intend to write another journal from here with lots of photos, unless I spot something extraordinary, having covered most things of interest in the Vietnam blogs of March/April 2012 and December/January last year. Off to Laos, via Bangkok, on Saturday evening so more news from there.

10th Dec. Arrived in Bangkok courtesy of Air Asia. Got a really cheap price for the flights from ''. They are a very helpful organisation and even speak to you on the phone. Plus, thanks to a cut-price hotel offer on the same website, I got a room in the five star Narai Hotel on Silom Road for a two night stay. This really was an exceptional deal. A luxurious hotel in the touristy Silom area close to lots of 'entertainment' and shopping and walking distance from the excellent underground system for £25 per night! I mean you couldn't get a bunk in a wog run flea-ridden sleaze-pit in any British backwater town for less than three times that price!

I haven't been to Bangkok for over five years. Glad to hear that the traditional salutation of "Yoowon   massah" is still the norm down Silom District.  They are still in mourning for their revered late King Bhoumibol and there are lots of big portraits of him on bill-boards throughout the country, and in all hotels, surrounded by black and white swags of cloth. Many people are wearing black ribbons on their sleeves. Even the cabin crew on the aircraft were wearing black armbands.

I couldn't help but notice the increasing number of fat Thais. Not just fat, but with spotty complexions and bad teeth. I rather rudely took these pics to demonstrate the issue. I can only assume that the cause is their 'trendy' modern fast-food diet, and probably compounded by a lack of exercise.

Twenty years ago you would never have seen heffalumps like these. Now they are not uncommon. Sad really, and I expect Vietnam will follow suit in due course.

I spent most of Sunday in the vast Chatuchak weekend market up in the north of the city. It is a marvel to behold. It is the biggest of its kind and covers an area, I'm guessing, of about 15 acres. There are seemingly endless stalls tightly packed in a rabbit warren of narrow passageways under covered sheds, selling everything from clothes to antiques name it. Lots of bartering is the order of the day and you get some fantastic deals.

Left: This young girl was playing very jolly tunes on a strange looking three stringed electric guitar. She had a couple of mechanical performing cats which danced along to the music. It was a great draw, especially for the children, and she was collecting a lot of money in the process (for her college education). Most enterprising. Bank notes were being stuffed into the wicker basket by quite a lot of the considerable audience. When she went for a break she left the basket with the money (and cats) where it was, unattended. Nobody touched it. Very trusting I thought. I wonder how long she would have got away with that in a London market?

This was just a quick pit-stop before setting off to Laos. Curiously there are no direct flights to Vientiane from Ho Chi Minh City which is the reason I was staging through Bangkok. Apart from flying into Luang Prabang a few times from Hanoi in a previous existence, I have never really 'seen' Laos. It might be quite interesting.

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