Thursday, 7 July 2011

When two blogs collide

I was going to write a blog post called “Nobody told me there’d be days like these”. It was going to be about how stepping outside your door in Hanoi is like going down the rabbit-hole.

You’ll be on your way to Sunday brunch and you’ll see this:
A husband-to-be and his homies (and their mums) bearing gifts for the in-laws.

One gift was a whole pig:
If that doesn’t win them over, nothing will.

Or you’ll be cycling to the pool and you’ll pass these:
They're sacrificial offerings to be burnt as part of a Mother Goddess ceremony.

(If I made something as awesome as this, I would not allow anyone to set it on fire. Given the choice between eternal wealth and prosperity, and keeping a large, paper elephant in my loungeroom, I would choose the elephant.)

Or you’ll meet your friend in the park for a sandwich and discover this:
That the park has been turned over to marquees, stages and loudspeakers to mark World Milk Day. I hope you didn’t forget to celebrate World Milk Day.

Look! Milky Sydney Opera House:
This blog post was going to be about the wonder, the excitement and the otherworldliness of living and travelling in exotic places. The strange days, indeed.

And then I said, “Tabitha! Get a hold of yourself! Doesn’t that contradict one of your most firmly-held life philosophies? The one that says it’s unimaginative bunkum to equate the exotic with the noteworthy? That if you’re curious enough, you’ll find the most wonderful things right under your nose?”

“Bugger me sideways, Tabitha! You’re right!” I said.

“In fact, didn’t you used to write a whole blog dedicated to opening your eyes, appreciating your own neighbourhood, and seeing the beautiful in the familiar?”

“Oh Tabitha, it must be hard being so right all the time”, I said. “By celebrating the spectacular and the extraordinary, I’m overlooking the splendour of the little, everyday things. And I love the little, everyday things! I mean, not every day can be World Milk Day, can it?”

And with that dressing down, I picked up my camera and went off to the market to buy a kilo of tomatoes, following the same route I do every day.

I noticed for the first time, that people use the hollows in the concrete telegraph poles to store things:
 I saw still lifes:
This one is Morandi, when he graduated from bottles to saucepans:
I saw an office being renovated, and I felt a little pang for the old, unwanted things:
But then I wondered how many people in the world have a photo of computer towers with a tree stump (according to my Google image search: none), and I felt pleased with myself.

And then I thought of this shop I had just passed:
And remembered that nothing is unwanted in Vietnam.

And while gloomily reflecting on how criminal it is that these beautiful old tiles will be replaced with sparkly faux-granite atrocities, I noticed that paper aeroplane lying there, and I suddenly felt only positive things about all of humanity:
I pondered how concertina grills are somehow more 3D than everything else in the world:
I noticed that half of this window has been intertwined… with twine:
I was satisfied in a way I haven’t been since in France when I saw a hedgehog… in a hedge.

I looked up:
I saw buildings I never even knew were there:
I guess I've always been too focused on scanning the street for my favoured flower- and fruit-sellers to notice them.

But I saw the sellers too:
It seemed this could be an advertisement for washing powder. Tide: Making your chrysanthemums blindingly yellow.

I noticed for the first time that practically on my doorstep I could buy a fighting fish if I wanted to:
Or a Ming vase:
If anyone's stuck for gift ideas, I would like the first one on the second shelf. So iridescent!

I turned around from looking at a fish in a jar, and I saw a cat in a box:
The cat’s owner noticed that I was photographing it, so came rushing over, heaved it out of the box and preened at its face to make sure it looked its best for me:
She then stood behind me while I took this photograph, clicking her fingers to make the cat look at the camera:
I don’t know how to say “Work it, baby” in Vietnamese, but she was probably saying that too.

I ambled home with my tomatoes, Vietnam’s Proudest Cat Owner leaving me with a smile on my face. When I got to our door, I noticed that the three apartments in our building have three different species of doorbell:
For the sheer joy of it I rang ours, even though I knew no-one was home.


  1. Love the 'tude on that cat's face. Clearly didn't receive the required 10million dong to get up and pose for you. Gisele Bündchen would be proud.

  2. The lady cleaned the cat's face, but THAT is how she posed it? Hmm. I like the hanging tea kettles the best i think, a wonderful thing to notice. Happy World Milk Day Tabitha.

  3. my faves are the tiles + paper aeroplane and the hollow telegraph pole for storage...but I especially love that you hadn't really noticed the different door bells... :)

  4. Just lovely.

  5. Thanks allot for the post! It had a great message for me: "Take pictures of the details. They are making the difference!"

  6. Really enjoyed this post, which I discovered through a link on Twitter. You've captured so many of the things I love about Viet Nam, both in pictures and in your words.

  7. Thanks everybody. I really, really love getting comments. If I had to choose between a large, paper elephant in my loungeroom and comments, I'd choose comments. Happy World Milk Day to you all!

  8. Beautifully 'ordinary'

  9. thanks T. lovely points of view and reflection. x

  10. Hi there

    I'd like to write a little about this post in a round-up of the month's blogs in Vietnam. How can I contact you?

    Can you mail me? David <<>> bug lar <> gmail

  11. You captured the simplicity of "present joy" poignantly. Thank you Tabitha... for sharing it with me.


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