Tuesday 26 March 2013

The elusive jazz music of Hanoi...

"Of all the gin joints in all the world..." we walked into Jazz Club Minh in Hanoi. After two nights of searching we followed a clue written on a scrap of newspaper by a man whose only English seemed to be the word "Finished"....and we were thoroughly rewarded. It really was like a scene from a movie, ascending the three flights of stairs to an elegant glass door which, as you reach it, is pulled open for you to release a wave of fantastic jazz music. A smiling server gestures us to a table right down the front, where we could reach out and touch the band we were so close. Settling in, I look over and see that one of the sax players (there were three), making this wonderful music with such intensity, is wearing Crocs. You just know this is going to be a good night.

And it was. We sat there drinking lemon iced tea cocktails and Vietnamese beer while people at the tables around us filled the air with a very jazz club haze of cigarette smoke (it stung the eyes a bit and can't have been very good on the second hand smoke front, but it was atmospheric, you have to give it that). Part way through the evening the band brought up a former student of of the lead sax player's to play with them; and this young man, probably 17 or 18, spent the rest of the night up there with his shiny, new looking sax in the midst of the older musicians whose saxes looked so well loved they'd probably been playing those same ones since they were his age.

During the band's break we were treated to two piano performances by a very young girl and boy, escorted by their parents and dressed in crisp, white attire, playing like concert pianists. At the end of their performances, while everyone clapped, they took small, formal bows and returned to their parents without a word. We still don't know if it was all pre-arranged or if if it's just something they do there.

At the end of the night a taxi ride through the winding streets and rushing traffic of Hanoi's Old Quarter deposited us back at our hostel; and while I don't really know anything about jazz music, I know I'll always remember that jazz music.    

Sunday 24 March 2013

Vietnam Ahoy!

So we're now in Vietnam. After a short layover in the most impressive airport we've ever seen in Singapore. There was an outdoor, rooftop cactus garden and an electronic sign in the ladies room urging visitors to rate the facilities as they left, enough said. Though we arrived in Ho Chi Minh City at night, which was a bit daunting, our trip into the city went very smoothly, as every local person we've encountered thus far has been unfailingly kind and helpful, and all we must do in return (besides of course being very grateful, which I suppose we don't have to be, but we certainly are) is be stared at. Laura for her fair skin, which in a country where a number of women wear white-tinged makeup to make themselves appear paler, and whitening treatments seem to be a standard beauty treatment, has been a source of not so subtle admiration, and me for my height, which for a girl in particular around here is of Amazonian proportions.

We had a short stay in Ho Chi Minh City to begin with, in which time we had the opportunity to buy at least twenty pairs of sunglasses, had we been so inclined, as we explored (wandering vendors hold out a few different things, but sunglasses seem to be the favourite), but one of the many beauty salons is where we were headed. I selected a foot scrub and paraffin dip from the services menu, which was lovely, but I'll admit I don't recall any other foot beauty treatment that also involved cracking all my finger and toe joints in a hair-raising manner, having an arm and shoulder massage which culminated with a manoeuvre which can really be described no other way than being repeatedly punched in the arms (truly, I had a dead arm on the right side for quite a time after this, and the woman doing this I would describe as deceptively petite), and for the finale, being bopped repeatedly on the head, which for reasons I cannot fathom, cleared my sinuses in a way usually reserved for sniffing strong peppermint scented things.

The paraffin portion of the treatment, which I had envisioned involving dipping my feet in a little tub, perhaps while perusing a magazine or some such, in fact turned out to involve whole leg movements which looked like something out of an aqua aerobics routine while extremely hot wax was painted onto my legs and feet, even between my toes. My waxy portions were then encased in plastic wrap and towels for a waiting period before it was all peeled off again. At the final moisturizing phase of the treatment it was gravely suggested to me that I carry on into a treatment they offered charmingly called foot scraping. As a person who likes to be barefoot as much as possible and on all terrains this didn't come as too much of a surprise. As it turned out, this process essentially consisted of having your feet, mainly your heels, grated like a piece of cheese. By the time Laura came down from her leg wax there I was with my legs splayed out in front of me and two very intent women crouched in front of my feet wielding tiny graters. But, I have feet as soft as a baby's bum to show for it!

Friday 22 March 2013

Melbourne and beyond...

The journey begins. Three days in Melbourne as our first port of call. It was busy times, it seemed like we were running everywhere. We checked in at our hostel which was above a pub, where the bar and the reception desk were synonymous, and were assigned a room on the third floor, in a lift-less hostel, with our "long term trip" amount of baggage. After a sweaty, slow climb we dropped off our bags in a room full of other mystified new arrivals, as we had all been decisively issued bed numbers in a room we all now discovered was labelled with letters... There were also no clean sheets and Laura and I's chosen beds appeared to be strewn with M&M's.

Running late to meet a friend we left again, hoping things might be sorted by the time we returned. Our destination for the evening was the beautiful Astor Theatre where we were seeing three Irish short films, The Guard (in honour of it being St. Paddy's Day) and Quartet. We'd missed the first short and went in halfway through the second. It was perhaps for the best. What I'd first assumed to be Irish Gaelic we quickly deduced from the lack of subtitles was in fact English, unintelligible English accompanied by men digging a very large hole. There was something about the whole situation I found extremely amusing, but between bouts of silent, side-shaking laughter I managed to figure out that the story was in fact a loving tribute to old-fashioned peat digging. I also caught the word donkey. Laura managed to catch the words "and that's the story" before the screen faded to black. What the story really was I don't suppose we'll ever know.

The rest of our time in Melbourne was a rush of catching up with people and eating a lot of pizza (the pizza part wasn't planned, it just sort of worked out that way). But our hostel was a treasure trove of oddity. Our first night when we returned there were indeed clean sheets, our first morning there was puke in the middle of the third flight of stairs. Not that this really reflects on the hostel, they can't be held responsible for some St. Paddy's Day reveler being unable to hold their drink and lacking the drunken spatial awareness to aim slightly to the left or right. We certainly felt bad for housekeeping though. We also discovered the M&M's weren't confined to just our beds, someone seemed to hae stood in the middle of the room and thrown a whole bag of them like confetti because we found them everywhere. The bathrooms were pretty good, though the sinks were so small, and sat so far beneath the low shelf above them that you needed the spitting prowess of a Spaghetti Western cowboy to be able to brush your teeth there. The pillows, however, did not pass muster, with Laura informing me the morning after our first night "My pillow was no pillow at all, just two lumps of fluff in a sack! Two separate lumps!"