Thursday, 9 June 2011

Hanoi summer rainbow

This post is dedicated to all the wintering Australians whose status updates about the cold and the rain and the grey are clogging my Facebook news feed. Suffer in your jocks, friends.

This is the tree outside our house, which Debbie correctly predicted would get red flowers. But saying it like that makes it sound like a mere botanical fact, when it can only properly be described as a Goddamn Botanical Spectacular. Every day I would take a photo of it thinking that surely, this is as OTT as it’s going to get, but no, it just kept on going. I guess they don’t call it a Flamboyant for nothing, eh? 

It did eventually reach a pinnacle of redness and floweriness, at which point I assumed it would just explode. But instead, like the poignant end of any great Flamboyant’s glory, some wild winds blew up (see: Orange, below) and carried the flowers off down the street. It was better to burn out than to fade away, dear tree. See you next June.

I’m still suffering post traumatic stress from last summer here, even though the new summer has begun. But as I keep telling everyone, like the insufferable old-timer that I am, this summer has nothing on that one (very important qualifier: yet). The difference is that we’ve been enjoying some pretty awesome, cooling storms in the evenings (the photo is of my bicycle poncho drying, by the way, for those who don’t wear ponchos in tropical storms on a daily basis like we do). 

The other night, while eating dinner, Nathan and I watched the whipping rain frenzy from our window, noting all our rubbish from the bin as it floated past down the street/river. “Oh look, there goes our lime cordial bottle.” “Oh yes. And our Barilla spaghetti box is now stuck on that floating door.” We then saw two thongs go floating by. “Oh look, some thongs”, we said.  The thongs were shortly followed by a thongless man with an umbrella wading through the overflowing sewer water. He located one of his thongs but the other had sailed off around the corner. Nathan opened the window, shouted “Anh oi!” and pointed where his thong had floated off to. The man gave a thumbs up to the creepy, all-seeing – but admittedly useful – Tâys watching him from their eyrie.

This is pollen drying in the sun. I’m not quite sure what it’s used for (something to do with tea, maybe?). If I was a bee, I would have high-tailed it to this footpath and saved myself a lot of bother flying around to all those flowers.
Every single little patch of land in Vietnam is used, very efficiently, for two things; this one is both a footpath and a pollen drying area/missed opportunity for bees. So you get not just a railing on a bridge, it’s also for drying your rice noodles. It’s not just a shop, it’s also your house. It’s not just a tree with a fan screwed into it, it’s also your hammock holder. It’s not just a hideously polluted lake, it’s also for fishing and for using as a toilet (triple points!). The Vietnamese would not brook nature strips, I can tell you that. They’d have a goat out on them in no time.


The lotuses on West Lake are stunning at the moment, even if they have mostly been picked to sell to suckers like me who are somehow surprised every single time when they die after only one day. But look at them! How could you resist!

The lotus pods are equally beautiful in their minimalist, Vogue Living kind of way, and definitely last longer. 

I think these retail in Sydney florists for about a bazillion dollars per stem (here, about $2 a bunch). Last year I bought a bunch of these to put in a vase on my desk at the WWF office. Every single Vietnamese staff member (including ones I had never even spoken to before) then proceeded to pass my desk and say, “Uhh, you know they’re not flowers, right? They’re fruit. You eat them.” Vogue Living has obviously not made it to Vietnam yet.


When Nathan and I were in Sydney recently we decided to try all the new bars and restaurants that had opened in our absence. Sometimes several in one night. This was not a great decision for our hip-pocket nor our waistlines. Getting dressed for his first day back at work, I thought Nathan’s shirt buttons might actually pop right off. And so, we are now on a fitness drive to get Hot For Summer. We’re definitely some kind of hot. 

This is Nathan at the makeshift boxing gym where we go, after a night of gin and tonics, a 6:15am wake up call, a double espresso, and one hour’s cardio-boxing to the soundtrack of Destiny’s Child and Katy Perry. You decide which one of those things made him look like that. 

And this is Sweat Nathan which he left behind when he eventually got up.

I’m not very clear on what indigo really looks like. Will these mangosteens do? They are, after all, and according to Wikipedia, the Queen of Fruit. Unfortunately for them, this means they’re married to the King of Fruit, which, according to Wikipedia, is durian. Sucks to be you, mangosteen.
Back before we moved here, when we were over-enthusiastically getting Vietnamese lessons in Sydney, and over-enthusiastically following whatever the Wikipedia entry on Vietnamese culture said, we read that if you are a guest to a Vietnamese home, you should bring fruit. So, dutifully, we rushed off to get fruit to take to the home of our teacher. Actually, Nathan was in charge of this task (back when we shared domestic duties, you see… Aah, those were the days) and so he went to the David Jones Food Hall and bought a kilogram of mangosteens, that cost TWENTY DOLLARS. Yes, that is correct. He then bought a gift bag to put them in. Anyway, we then proudly presented the gift-wrapped mangosteens, like try-hards, to our Vietnamese teacher, saying “For you: A Vietnamese fruit!” Our teacher, a Hanoian, answered straight back, “Well, really, a southern Vietnamese fruit”. I can only truly understand now what an absolutely perfect entrée to the real, non-Wikipedia, Vietnamese culture that was. And of course, she then went on to ask how much they were. We lied. She didn’t ask why you’d put fruit in a gift bag, but she should have. In later lessons, she told us not to eat apples from China and that there are no gay people in Vietnam.

This photo is very violet, but I don’t have anything to say about it (except that Flamboyant Tree kicks its arse):

So I will use this. 

The straws are violet, you see.
News from the outside world has filtered through to us that coconut water is de rigueur now. Apparently you can buy it bottled, pitched as a rehydration drink. Here in Nam, we drink our coconut water straight out of the motherf*ckin’ coconut. That’s how we roll. And we roll just like that almost every day, because it’s so incredibly delicious, and we have a lot of rehydrating to do (see: Blue, above).

A few years ago, when I finished an ill-conceived winter-time holiday on the Trans-Siberian Railway, I remember saying to my traveling companion that next time, I would like to go somewhere – anywhere – where I could drink out of a coconut. To me, that just says “Tropical Island Holiday Paradise”. So even when I’m sitting on a small plastic stool, next to an increasingly pungent lake, surrounded by youths talking loudly on their mobile phones, if I’m holding a coconut, then it’s Tropical Island Holiday Paradise time for me. And you can’t get that in a bottle.


  1. Loved the post Tabitha.

    I can tell you those lotus pods are definitely better sitting on your desk than spraying their gross bitterness into your mouth ;)

    And can i have the number of your old Vietnamese teacher so i can tell her there are definitely A LOT of gays in Vietnam.

  2. Hey Tabitha,
    I saw Nathan's doppleganger this morning!! I did a double take whilst driving (which I strongly recommend avoiding!) and I swear it was him. He had his jovial walk and everything!
    On a side note I had a mangosteen recently in Sri Lanka. Not a fan.
    Hope you're both well!

    Suga xx

  3. I believe the beautiful orange tree is a poinciana - we had them all around our house in far north west QLD when I was a kid. The flowers are lovely and intricate up close.
    Stay cool (I'm currently rugged up in front of the heater with uggies on, and my special Scottish shawl, that my kids bought for me on their last trip to Edinburgh, dutifully wrapped around me.) Only 83 days till Spring, or Autumn where you are.
    Luv K x

  4. Great post!! Love the colour theme. What a fantastic tree, how lucky you are. You made me laugh about the lotus pods :)

    And yes, it's raining in Sydney and my feet are cold.

  5. Excellent, loved green and violet especially! And I can't help but wonder if Sweat Nathan was found like that, or is it a pose?!


  6. Hello to you both. Once again, really love your blog, Tabitha. Like other posts above it is very cold at the moment in Adelaide. I too am sitting here with scarf and ugg boots on. Take care - both of you - and keep hydrated with that gorgeous coconut milk.

  7. Ah, coconut milk! Loved it in Asia so much I actually spent quite a bit on a drinking coconut imported from Thailand that I found shrinkwrapped in the supermarket in Coffs Harbour. How could that not taste good I thought? There is no way they could mess that up!

    Yes, you guessed it - horrible. I'm glad you guys get to enjoy those all the time. Have one for me!

  8. Love the colours! Awesome. xx

  9. "Here in Nam, we drink our coconut water straight out of the motherf*ckin’ coconut. That’s how we roll"

    Best blog line I've seen in ages! Kakked myself!

    We arrive leave Thailand for Hanoi on 23 July - can't wait!

  10. Love this. Suffer in your jocks indeed. Basically, whenever you buy anything in Vietnam, somebody is going to ask you how much you paid for it and then declare: "jousting sticks!"

  11. Thanks for all your comments, everyone!

    Jonathan: "Gays in Vietnam" - that could be your special Jeopardy topic!

    Suga: Nathan has lots of doppelgangers, including the Australian Ambassador here. Check it out:

    Kerrie: Yes, it's the same as a Poinciana, or Flamboyant. Queensland gets to wear all the best tropical accoutrements! I just thank god Vietnam doesn't share the same snakes and spiders.

    Suzy: You should get an electric hot water bottle like our "cat"! Or, I guess, you could use a "real" cat. Either way, animals are the best foot-warmers by far.

    Laura: It would definitely be best for everyone involved if Sweat Nathan were fake, but I'm afraid to report that he makes an appearance at all our gym sessions, in a variety of positions.

    Michelle: Thanks for commenting! Feel free to taunt us back when we're languishing in a Hanoi winter and you're living it up at the beach.

    Buster: This proves my point that you just can't buy a Tropical Island Holiday Paradise at the supermarket. Thank you for making me feel even more smug.

    Kate: Thank you! You know, the colours are even more amazing in the Real Life too. I think the world will appear to us in relative black and white after we leave Vietnam.

    Vickie: Enjoy your last month in Thailand! Get in as much mall-time as you can, because, believe it or not, you'll miss it.

    Katrina: Exactly. My favourite is when I buy some fruit from a street vendor and then she sings out the price I paid to all the other vendors for their enjoyment.

  12. This has been the most enjoyable read I've had so far this week. And this week has been really bad so far. So thank you for a great blog post. I personally love the mangosteen king & queen of fruit part. Haha~ <3

  13. I too loved the coconut milk straight from the coconut - this is real luxury and in Vietnam cheap luxury! Exciting. Keep up the blogs x


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