After something like 2.75 years in Vietnam, I'm taking the low road back to civilisation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Dunedin Thistle AFC

Having just seen El Clasico, read all about the Raiders's impressive showing in Manila, and being presently stuck between a cancelled Sunday game and a cancelled training session thanks to the snowfall, this seems about as good a point as any to reflect on the way my own amateur football involvement has been going.

Rewind a little and Floyd's acupuncturist told me I should wait about a year before "returning to the bench" in December last year. He also mentioned during one of the 3 $50 sessions I attended that the healing process was based around 50% dietary, 20% exercise related, 20% pills intake and 10% down to his methods. There left me little doubt that I wasn't going to keep paying $50 twice weekly when I could stop eating sugar and boozing and improve my condition for free. Not that I was ever going to do either of those. Although I now take milk and just the one sugar in my tea instead of two.

Anyway, playing in goals for Raiders towards the end of my time in VN gave me a taste again and the confidence that I could get back involved in football without risking my leg for a third time. I had toyed with the idea of doing some refereeing, but I thought there was still some game time left in me yet.

I had a look on Gumtree for clubs needing a goalkeeper during pre season and emailed a couple. Links Utd, the first one to get back to me invited me along to a training session which was largely pre-season running. Having purposefully avoided pounding tarmac with my twice broken leg, this run up and around Arthur's seat was torture and only the last 5 minutes was in any way related to my skills or development. We had a game that midweek which I featured for the last 20 minutes after their existing keeper had ruined his clean sheet by trying to dribble round a striker, and managed to keep the score at 2-1.

However the intense pre season fitness schedule meant that I was burdened with pain at the site of my recovering double fracture and I skipped a couple of training sessions, only managing to make another 20 minute substitute appearance for them. It turned out there were 3 different keepers in the frame for the team and I wasn't feeling confident enough in my leg strength to battle it out for a starting slot.

Subsequently I was prepared to content myself with pick up games of 7's or whatever I could get with friends. However, after a 5's tournament with an ex-colleague, I was forwarded an email appealing for a half-decent 'keeper from another ex-colleague, and went along to one of their pre-season friendlies to see the existing 'keeper blunder his way through the second half to lose them the game 6-5.

This was my number 1 shirt. There was no able competition and an agreement that I train when I could. After a single training session, we had the opening game of the season and earned a 4-2 victory at or home ground. I played well, bookmarked and loaded up my credit card.

Unfortunately, a couple of months later, we haven't won a game since and my performances have been somewhat less impressive, masked by the fact that we have only been scoring a goal a game, and not really threatening to beat anyone. We should really be a solid mid-table outfit, but have been left with 5 points out of 6 games due to ill-discipline, an inability to deal with the long ball and laziness.

My leg has turned a corner and I rarely feel leg pain anymore, only wincing occasionaly when performing twisting landings, so I have been training nearly every week. I have been picking up new injuries more frequently than I would like but that's something I'm having to accept as par for the course now.

There is a small Spanish contingent in our squad, and they introduced a goalkeeper who came along and impressed during the same training session that I nearly broke some fingers. He then got his chance in the weekend game where we had played for 87 minutes with 10 men after another debutant was dismissed for a headbutt, and despite taking a 2-0 lead, we drew 2-2 against an inferior side. He has since been unable to play or train due to his work commitments and I have not lost the jersey.

My expectations of this league were of aging squads, a lot of on field hostility and dirty challenges. What has been surprising is the youthfulness of most of these teams. The more senior players have been a lot calmer, less prone to go into savage challenges, which would prolong their playing careers.

Compared to Vietnam (which will inevitably evoke a wave of sentimentality for SRFC), we only have a referee, so offside calls are dubious and don't help my teams attitude to the validity of long ball tactic that opposing teams invariably adopt. I have played 6 games and spectated at one where I was injured, and there has not been a single photo taken. Team spirit is conspicuous by it's absence. And we are facing a winter shutdown because the snow has arrived. Our captain has walked out on us because he felt unappreciated for taking the team in the absence of the main two in charge.

So the focus is now on playing well personally, enjoying my football, avoiding injury and identifying an 11's team in San Jose.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Looking for work

When I was in Scotland between graduation and going out to Vietnam, I would generally stick in a job for 8-14 months before picking something else up rather easily. The length of time I spent unemployed had been completely up to me. So when I was hearing from my mother (the ultimate pessimist reactionary) about the dearth of jobs available even for those emerging from uni with quality degrees, I dismissed the situation as problems concerning graduates with no experience battling it out with each other for the select few top jobs.

I'll at this stage admit that the truth lies close to what my dear old mum intimated when I was still in HCMC. Seemingly the majority of people are suffering joblessness for somewhere between 2 to 8 months before finding gainful employment.

After working for the Edinburgh International Festival during August, it took exactly 2 months for something promising to crop up for me. Admittedly I could have been trying harder and applying for more menial tasks (I would like to think that Pizza Hut would take me back in a heartbeat - but I think that era is best left behind).

It didn't take long for us to start thinking about where to go to find ourselves valued and receive offers for our considerable talents. Japan of course was the first place that cropped up and we almost immediately agreed to try and find an 'in' sometime after our lease ran out on the flat here in Edinburgh. However, Hana's Japanese teaching contacts painted a not too dissimilar picture to that of the UK and we started opening our minds to alternatives.

Costa Rica had been second on my preference list of TEFL course locations back in 2007, an interest which had been built on the back of my research into a potential second animal care volunteer project after returning from wrestling with African penguins. Since then only the glowing reports from semi-regular visitor Florian, and a passing mention of the allure it also held for Hana had really brought Costa Rica to the forefront of my mind. When it emerged that Hana knew a current IH Costa Rica employee and was about to get in contact with the DOS, it very quickly became a lead that should be followed up.

If only to see some Ocelots.

Basically, we both had a Skype interview which was short and sweet, contained no tricky questions and inferred that our CV's spoke for themselves, and a few days later had received offers for contracts starting in May of next year.

What a contrast.

Until that point, I had not heard a single word that hadn't been an automated email response (apart from that painful Bank Of Scotland phone interview) and following a 15/20 minute chat here was a guy 8500kms away who was prepared to offer me a job based on the very same CV.

Which would enable me to see three toed sloths crossing the road as we travelled the ridiculously small distances from San Jose to the beach.


Subsequently, I have had an interview here which sounds tantalisingly like a nice little driving gig to fill the intervening months before I fly West shortly after my 30th birthday.

However, neither of these are more than words at this early stage.

The situation in general is not much of an inspiration to return to these frozen shores any time soon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The trumpet

Most peoples memories of WOZA revolve around the noise picked up by TV cameras giving the impression that there was a constant droning sound deafening all inside the ground. Not the case when you were actually there. I wasn't and still am not a massive fan of the Vuvuzela, but it was by no means annoying to me when I was actually at the matches. My ambivalence to the instrument comes about due it's position as a direct replacement for team songs and chants, which to me is a critical part of physically going to games. I certainly wouldn't have invested my own money on one, but when Henno brought me one back from Bloem, I embraced it as I would any Orlando Pirates emblazoned merchandise.

A relatively poor debut showing from my lips as I tried to make an impression on the Green Point stadium and it's surrounds, the knack seemed to come and go, and stay gone. The trumpet has since featured in the away end at Aberdeen .v. Hearts, helping the away team to a 1-0 win. I wasn't the mouthpiece at that game, having long since thought better of sitting around at Pittodrie in late Autumn watching football just yards away from the baltic North Sea coast. My nephew was the one who endeared himself to the travelling support that day.

However, this was not the only trumpet to feature in my World Cup experience. Stellenbosch's premier drinking hole, The Trumpet Tree, was our venue on several nights to watch the games. Seemingly ran by one of Henno and Christoff's old academic pals, the provision of a log fire and flamin' hot Jalapeno Poppers warmed the frozen souls of those who had migrated to the Cape in winter from much more tropical climes. The Trumpet at the world cup this year, for me, will always be the bar, and not the plastic instrument.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

#1 The first 72 hours of 2010.

Note* This was drafted months ago and appears here in - more or less - it's original form. I need to close out this countdown so I can concentrate on updating people with what has been happening and is planned for the coming months.

Am I cheating by quoting a period of 3 days? Don't care. By paraphrasing the modern philosopher Tassell "It's a vibe". December was undoubtedbly the most depressed I have ever been. On crutches, my comeback on two legs- particularly on the football field- shattered, and facing a year out of football, never to play for my team again was bad enough but upon our return from a fantastic stag weekend in Phuket, I slumped to a new low. A not inconsiderable number of friends were voicing their displeasure for Saigon, the recent parallel that I had drawn with Thailand, facing what could well be our last complete family Xmas plus a very sombre juncture in time all conspired to make mid December such a difficult time for me.

However, I made a couple of people share my baggage, and things began to look up. Things certainly took a positive spin at the Apollo Xmas party, and I looked forward to New Year with genuine lust for life. An intimate house party for those Apollo-ites who were working on the evening of the 31st was held at our house. Of course, we subsequently hit TNR (which had never smelled better) where, in a throwback to the first time I met Casey, everyone was having a good old bug-eyed time and the celebrations eventually wound up at... forgotten the name of the cafe upstairs on Do Quang Dao... when life for the Saigonese had begun yet another ordinary day. And for me, 2010 brought a fresh new beginning which enabled me to really embrace my final months in SE Asia.

Without getting too publicly soppy, Hana was (without being too literal) the one thing about Saigon I am taking away with me. And the best thing. I mean, I love my Phuket Spicy 7's winner's medal, don't get me wrong. Again, I'm at risk of harping on about the Raiders, but my piece on them has come and gone. Raiders are in my past and Hana is in my future. Wherever the hell that will take place!

#2 Saigon Raiders

Saigon Raiders could well dominate this list, predominantly because every Sunday up until I started breaking my leg and several occasions afterwards was a tremendously enjoyable parallel to a working week where I was putting myself in front of uninspiring students all for what was certainly one of the lowest ex-pat salaries in the city... especially when I was afforded the chance to become a first choice midfielder in a competitive 11's team for the first time since my reproductive system had kicked into gear. (Why I am rambling about my balls at this point I'm not quite sure...) However, tours were the highlights of my time with Saigon Raiders and those were not Saigon based memories, so I will omit those. I could name my record breaking goal after only 8 seconds against LDC. And for a shameless plug, I will. If you haven't heard of or were privileged enough to have seen that goal, then watch Tshabalala's goal for South Africa against Mexico and you will see a pretty close approximation of the only competitive goal of my Raiders career. Except mine was a sweeter strike since the ball was a few yards outside the box, and he’s probably a bit better with his left foot than I. (I went on to score a handful, but as Facebook shows, those were hardly on a par with the (ultimately meaningless) goal against LDC). We lost 2-1.

So what memory am I going for? Due to injuries, it’s been such a long time since I played seriously in Vietnam that I'm struggling here. This is the first of the ten memories I have written at length about and I have already chosen this as number 2 without having decided on a memory!

However Saigon Raiders 20th anniversary weekend was a suitably appropriate farewell for me, combining an awards night, the Champions league final and a challenge match made up of My Whites against Miquels Reds with around 30 Raiders past and present participating. Had I not picked up an award on the Saturday night and captained my team to a 5-1 victory against Miquel, then there's a chance I would have picked another memory. Not so.

If I never again turn out in the red and white then I will be astonished – Unless that is because Fraser succeeds in changing the kit colour to black and white stripes - I fully expect to feature for them once again in the future, most likely on tour in Thailand.

#3 Mariko’s announcement.

Mariko's announcement shortly after my leg break was something that will (or rather will not) live with me for a long time. I’m not airing my dirty laundry here so no comments please.

#4 Dave's wedding/stag do and the discovery of Weissbier

The weeks surrounding Dave’s marriage to Hue provided me with several good memories and discoveries. The stag do in Phuket cannot feature in this list, but the wedding itself was a very emotional and memorable occasion.

It was around this time that I had discovered Weissbier, which was the greatest discovery of 2009. I had experimented with Erdinger before, but it was HB that got me hooked in the latter stages of the year and increased my expenditure on beer by at least 150%. I have pretty much sussed out the availability of the different brands in Edinburgh now, but have to limit my spending on the cloudy stuff sometime soon.

The groom’s speech reflected his penchant for - in addition to his new bride of course - the written word and Microsoft Powerpoint. It was a unique speech, delivered bilingually in part, that exceeded my estimated length, and lost me 50k. Give a task like a groom’s speech to someone who is as fond of writing down his thoughts, memories and feelings as Dave is, and you will get a lengthy speech, but despite Khalid and Les’s assertions that a speech should be finished within 20 seconds, Dave’s was kept engaging for all by the inclusion of readings in Vietnamese of thanks and joy to his bride’s family (a quick look around would see the Vietnamese listening intently, and the ex-pats mouthing along silently). Normally, if you give the big man a microphone for that length of time, you will see him steadily deteriorate into shambolic slurred state of drunkenness for as long as he can maintain the majority of the quizmaster’s essential skills of reading, speaking, focusing his eyes (on something, anything) and avoiding mashing the keyboard with his elbow to the detriment of the presentation. A once in a lifetime chance to see him come away from an amplified stage more sober than he was when he started, but considerably more glassy eyed.

The Holmes’s guest list demonstrated a challenge that, under very different circumstances, I have faced and which has on several occasions put me off organizing shindigs. Helping everyone get along. On a night out you can just stick to little self contained groups. The difference being of course, that at a wedding the guests you invite cannot be excluded and then invited to another bash so there’s little room for creative omission.

Seemingly at Ben and Rachel's wedding at the same location some months before, Ian and me got into a bit of a aggro with each other over some throwaway comment I made that neither of us can actually recall. The result of which being that when us boys went up to the bar to sort out some shots, those of us with partners seemed to invoke a no shot or no sex for a month rule, as Ronnie and Rachel were able to kill Ian and Ben's enthusiasm for hitting the shorts in the blink of an eye.

However, Ronnie couldn't stop the blood from flowing as Kerry leapfrogged Liam and sent her chin into a very solid object and had to be escorted off to the hospital for stitches.

A fantastic day, tinged with disappointment only at Chris Marsek and wife walking out in the middle of Dave’s speech. Shame on you Marseks.

Monday, August 2, 2010

#5 Henno's leaving night and the implications for Louise's birthday weekend in Mui Ne

Note that I have included Louise’s birthday bash here, but as it was a Mui Ne thing, all that I am allowed to mention really was the state I was in on that morning. Anyway, rewind several hours and we begin the evening at La Habana.

Having said farewell to Sarah on the day that Jacko died a couple of weeks previous, Henno’s last Friday night was celebrated with the usual aplomb and ceremony. I thought I was in control. I thought I was fine after an initial “wobbly stage”. However, despite my clarity of mind, I was still… unbalanced, and the Tequila which I consumed (breaking a 7 year abstinence period from the evil shit) and talk of me looking like a Moto GP racer encouraged me to take the ‘chicane’ at the Opera House at such speed that I would have been setting a new personal best from Hai Ba Trung to Dong Khoi.

Predictably (and luckily the only time I came off my bike in SaiGon in approaching 3 years) this left me and Kafka with a few scrapes. Kafka doesn’t bleed if his surface is scratched, but I did. I still can’t put together exactly how I came off, but it must have been a sight for the Vietnamese who like to picnic at the side of the opera house at 2 in the morning. A lack of pain and a lot of shame meant I went straight home to clean myself up as best I could, my open wounds on my feet and hands ate up the iodine solution, and I collapsed in bed with my alarm set for 3 hours later.

At least I made it for the train to Mui Ne in the morning, no small thanks to Alex, who got an eyeful when he had to rouse me from my sleep. 3 of the 4 ticketholders boarded the train, with me immensely looking forward to greeting the mosquitoes who could probably already smell me boarding that train.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

#6 Keith's phone call.

In May of 2008 while teaching I received a missed call from my best mate, which was followed up by a text message asking for a call back. Whether or not the text message alluded to a less serious situation I cannot remember, but upon getting home I hadn’t yet returned the call. Keith called again and left me with tragic news that stunned me and left me thousands of miles away from a good friend who was in hospital effectively braindead and being kept alive by a machine.

Having left work on his motorbike, Gordon, experienced on mopeds but fairly new to his 600cc sportsbike, had been cruising down the outside of a line of stationary cars near my childhood dentist, when a car pulled out from a side road directly into the path of his bike and sent him flying. The impact upon his landing was such that Gordon’s life was instantly destroyed through no fault of his own or the driver of the car.

The distance numbed my reaction somewhat, I’m fairly sure. A couple of years later I had some closure on this, when Zoe started fitting on the ground outside a bar in the early hours of the morning. I think it was the air of helplessness that surrounded the people involved that connected Gordon’s last 24 hours to Zoe’s allergic reaction. A very sudden and inexplicable

The gravity of this didn’t affect my motorbike driving style in Vietnam at all, as the traffic systems and motorists’ awareness of motorbike riders are so vastly contrasting between the UK and SaiGon. The main effect it had on me was a realisation that life is so short. An obvious one maybe, but any death I had experienced until that point had been someone considerably older than me, who I hadn’t had any real attachment to. Gordon had, of course, vastly increased his odds of a premature death by jumping on such a machine.

I think this incident contributed to breaking down certain inhibitions I had previously held. Saying more explicitly what I think or how I feel is clearly not a problem for me these days. There is considerably less thought about what could go wrong while I consider doing something, instead more focus on how to make it work. This is more a by-product of an overall rise in confidence and skills from my experiences in Vietnam.

I never once actually spoke to him after moving to SaiGon, and only exchanged a few messages with him where all he spoke about was his bike and how fast he has managed to make it go. Which is a difficult last exchange to deal with, despite the fact his fatal crash was at fairly low speed. Keith recently reminded me that it's been over 2 years. I still can't quite it's been that long, and that this is the third trip home since his death.

#7Jon's Pub golf

Probably the best night out in 2008 was to mark the start of Jon’s hiatus from SaiGon as Chi was gestating and he was venturing to icier climes for his PGCE. My first experience of pub golf, a lot was learned on that balmy night, mainly that Long Island Iced Teas should not be played on an 18 hole course, and that mobile phones should be left at home.

I’m proud of the fact that I can remember most of the night, and from the scraps of paper found in David On’s pocket the next morning, I actually managed to complete a decent round, ending up a couple of shots behind the leader, whoever that might have been.

The players were mainly made up of Raiders, with the notable exception of Christoff, Henno’s mate from Stellenbosch who I was meeting for the first time, but would feature later in massive sporting fixtures such as the inaugural Singapore F1 Grand Prix, and the World Cup in South Africa (or more accurately, wine tours in between games). We lost David On for certain holes as a result of a jealous, attention seeking girlfriend, but were rewarded with an entertaining take on women from the man himself. He later tried to save some strokes by buying a round, but was frustrated to find that generosity doesn’t get you the birdies in this case.

Somewhere between making assertive statements regarding fire hydrants and the 14th hole, we came across a mechanical digger. Having failed to spark life into the beast by ourselves, the driver turned up and obliged us by cranking the engine and then hoisting Henno and I who were perched on the crane up several feet in the air. This ignited a trend for heights on industrial machinery, which I partly believe was inspired by Pete Shepherd’s schooldays theft of a steamroller.

The memory started to go at Q Bar, and I’m sure that if we had a game the next day, it’s a fair bet to assume we lost.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

#8 The ballet dancers

During my first few months in Saigon, my original circle of friends was made up of 5 of the teachers which had graduated from the TESOL course previous to mine, with the addition of Ryan and I. This circle did not last long as we each found personalities more suitable to our own, for Ryan this was Tam Tam bar crowd and some workmates, for me the Saigon Raiders and some Apollo staff.

Tali, Eddie, Ryan and I went along to the Opera House one evening to take in the Vietnamese theatre and one moment turned out to be, without doubt, the single funniest moment of my ex-pat life. I won’t go into too much detail, as this will mean nothing to those who had not witnessed it and my words are insufficient to do the scene justice. Basically the show was opera in the first half and we had spent most of that falling asleep, or watching the bat circle the stalls. After considering at the intermission whether we should stay for the second half, we relented and were rewarded with two male ballet dancers prancing on from the sides in the most mincing manner imaginable. The hilarity ensued and while Tali managed to remain relatively composed, Eddie, Ryan and I fell into hysterics which fed off each other for about half an hour and drew attention from those opera going types surrounding us. Fortunately the theatre was only about 40% full, less so in the rear where we were sat, and our laughter was able to break free, until it became simply too painful.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#9 "Experiencing Vietnamese culture" aka Ridiculous Vietnamese behaviour.

The Vietnamese work ethic. I had the privilege to see the Bitexco tower as the helipad was nearly finished, and at almost every turn Fraser, Ollie and I were faced with half a dozen workers springing up onto their feet to make a very half -arsed attempt at looking busy. Looking busy consisted of little more than being on their feet and smiling... this is part of a larger epidemic where a significant amount of locals somehow feel entitled after one month in the job to switch off almost completely, stop trying to produce quality work and instead concentrate on the infinitely more productive output of complaining about their income/company/managers and taking inordinate amount of sick days due to family reasons.

Personal space hypocrisy. The best examples I will provide of this was when playing a friendly/friendlies against a Vietnamese team/s up at Thu Duc Sports University. Whether the two incidents I am about to quote took place in the same game, I can’t quite remember. Anyway during the game one of my teammates tried to apologise for a tackle and when the guy refused a handshake or helping hand back up onto his feet because he was so badly hurt from the tackle, my teammate ruffled his hair. Anyone who isn’t familiar with Asian culture should be informed that touching the top of an Asian’s head thing is a no-no. OK fine. But at the end of another friendly (and also once at a Bia Hoi) I went for a hand shake and the Vietnamese guy instead tried to grab my dick. Anyone who isn’t familiar with my culture should know that if you do that to a Brit on the football pitch (I say Brit since there are probably some European nations which like that sort of thing) you stand a good chance of leaving with some teeth in your hand.

Complaints ie. "You're not ___ enough to be my teacher" - Ultimately, if their teacher was a closet 47 year old male paedophile who had secretly spent the last 5 years serenading around Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines as an English language instructor, spending his student’s money on sex for schoolkids they would be happier. That's an extreme example but unfortunately it holds true for their psyche (For the Vietnamese ignorance is too often bliss). An awful male teacher with expensive possessions or who just rocks up and teaches directly from the book is held in so much more esteem than a quality female teacher who prepares lessons and has a clue what she is doing…

Vietnamese standards of decency.
Some examples will suffice here.
1. People debagging, crouching and shitting in a very visibly alley in the city centre in the middle of the day.
2. Poor punctuality. Dismissed with an insulting laugh. And repeated offences.
3. Cheating. Dismissed with a laugh. And repeated offences.
4. Acceptable noise levels. It seems anything goes so long as the sun is up. That includes next door neighbours drilling holes every Sunday morning from 8am for weeks or months on end. Or next door neighbours building a rabbit hutch in a darkened enclave which is actually on YOUR property, and sticking a confused cockerel in there who crowed for 15 minute spells every hour from 5am up to 5pm. In their culture, you are expected to grin and bear it, fine - as long as they don’t throw childish fits when you are watching a CCR DVD at 9.30pm. Or starting your motorbike outside your house. Or when your cat walks around at night.
5. Animal treatment. In Vietnam the old style rat trap is used, where the creature is lured into a cage, which has a trapdoor held on a latch. When activated the door is released behind them and traps them in the cage. One Saturday morning when I was waiting at the side of Nguyen Thi Minh Khai for a taxi to work during my crutches phase, I saw a woman put the cage in the gutter, then bring out a kettle and slowly pour a litre of boiling water over the thrashing rodent until it had stopped bouncing off the sides of the cage. Well, job done.

After nearly 3 years I eventually succumbed to the Saigon Zoo which gave me two additional examples of the lack of respect for animals that some Vietnamese men, children and women hold.
Incident one, “The taunting of the lion”. When approaching the lion cage there was a group of around 6 people watching a man who was holding his briefcase just out of the Lioness’s paws reach, encouraging it to swipe at the bag. A moment of inspiration came to me as Hana and I looked at each other in disgust and as the man prepared to taunt the big cat once again, I readied myself and waited for the lioness to strike, simultaneously grabbing the guy from behind and roaring in his ear. It achieved the desired effect of scaring the piss out of the guy, but my Vietnamese was insufficient to explain to the guy if he continued I would try to feed him to the animal.
Incident two, “The Crocodile ashtray”. A guy with his young daughter in his arm and a cigarette in the other flicked his burning cigarette over the fence at the Crocodile which opened its jaws and snapped up the butt. I would have liked to have seen him try to stub out that fag in the Croc’s mouth, and see how he was going to smoke and carry his toddler at the same time ever again.

People are told to be sensitive to Vietnamese culture and adapt. I agree to a point, my former flatmate Ryan was very short tempered and overly hostile towards the locals. But the country and its people are supposed to be developing, and I didn’t see any signs of it in my time there. Now that I’m away from Vietnam I say without reservation that the majority of Vietnamese people need to grow the fuck up. Not that I particularly held my tongue when I was there. But they can’t do it by themselves, and as teachers we can only help them reverse some of these behaviours, assuming their family unit is not simultaneously encouraging the opposite.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Most memorable moments from my time in Saigon.

If this list was about the most memorable moments from the last 3 years of my life, then a much smaller proportion of them would have been based on events that took place in HCMC. But this list is about expatriate life within the inner city. Each of my trips from Tan Son Nhat airport were eagerly anticipated and I was very much pre-genkified. So this top ten is based largely on nights out, football related stuff or total surprises. Evidently that's what a Saigon working week leaves you with.

Of course, some events weren't even up for publishing consideration due to the fact that this is an open blog and certain things are on a need to know basis. Just think Vietnamese rum, post Thailand stag do/pre Christmas blues, Lily bar, et al.

The list is not entirely made up of happy memories, but luckily, the bulk of my recollections are of the fond variety.

#10 Cat injuries

Each of my cats suffered their own trauma during the 2 years I lived with them. What exactly happened in each of these cases, I can never be sure.

Floyd (otherwise known as Big Benson, Wolf Doctor) committed genocide on the bat population that circled the roof of our house during a 2 or 3 month spell until either a) he got bored or b) he actually succeeded in wiping them out. This worried me slightly as Ryan and I had decided against the Rabies inoculation since we thought initially they were going to be largely housecats, until his faecal/urinary habits became intolerable and was banned to the roof at night. He then managed to clamber in through the gap at the top of the door and he was then entitled to come and go as he pleased.

One day, I came down the stairs to see this lovely picture.

Then feared the worst. As you would. He was promptly stuffed into a backpack (at this stage he had become too big for the Xbox 360 packaging) and driven the two minutes down to the vets, where he was injected with antibiotics and we were instructed to bring him back every evening for a week. The official verdict was he had eaten something he shouldn’t have.

Shitrock (otherwise known as Veronica, Neko, Snake) was assumed to have suffered a mysterious fall which resulted in a bloody nose/mouth and a severe limp for a period of two or three weeks. The neighbour next door had apparently been spotted swinging some kind of stick at her in the past, but this seemed to be as a result of a misjudged leap. Or was it a sympathy break after seeing me on crutches for so long?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An idle kind of life

There are several very good reasons why a 29 year old man should not be living with his parents. It doesn't take very long for these to become obvious once more, having spent several years since my last prolonged stint with my folks.

One of these reasons is that in order to use the internet I have to lie on my front on the floor of their dining room. Combine it with the facts that it's such a pain in the arse to reconnect, I am not working, most of my friends have left Edinburgh or are actually working right now, my girlfriend is a million miles away, and as a result I am spending a worrying amount of time prostrate next to the dinner table in front of a computer screen.

At present, I am right in the middle of a little 4 week stint back at my parents flat, before I (and Hana, when she arrives) move into my brother's spare room for about 5 weeks. That gives us time to look for a 1 bedroom flat once the Edinburgh festival and Fringe have packed up and taken their ludicrously inflated flat rental prices (and our jobs) with them. Needless to say, our flat will have WiFi.

Price check one. Key cutting in Vietnam = 5-10,000 VND (20-40p) Same 2 minute operation in UK = £3.50. Before any Vietnamese key cutters out there reading this start packing their bags to start up a business in Edinburgh, be warned:
  1. It's pissing with rain.
  2. Cut one key for 10,000 and you can get your lunch. Cut one key for £3.50, and you're still about £7 short for your bowl of Pho.
  3. Nobody will understand your pronunciation. You won't understand anyone else's pronunciation. Neither of these will improve with time.
There is no Vietnamese community in Scotland. Maybe the food is too healthy. Take that out the equation and you're not gonna get Vinatown suddenly springing up somewhere just off the Dalkeith road. I've got kind of sidetracked here...

Anyhow, tomorrow morning I'm on a train to Slaley Hall, Hexham near Newcastle for the weekend to spend a few nights in my brother's timeshare lodge. Golf, gym and Wet 'n' Wild...

Monday, July 12, 2010

A few final words on fitba

The world cup has gone, and my world cup beard has disappeared along with it. There stands a fair chance that it will be reincarnated a few months down the line, taking the form of a distant cousin, the Edinburgh winter beard. For the present, however, I am facial hairless and football-less. I have been toying with the idea of trying to find a club while I'm back home. Until I know what I'm doing beyond the festival though, I can't commit to training and games. If I decide to wait until I know how I'm placed, the season will be under way and I will have next to no hope of breaking into a team as first choice goalkeeper (the only position I am willing to risk my bones in at the moment).

This Catch 22 situation raises the other option that I have considered recently, that I could stay involved in football and make a little pocket money by doing a spot of refereeing. I hesitate when I see the treatment of Howard Webb last night. Replace a squad full of Dutch professional footballers with a collection of hungover thirty somethings from Clovenstone with unknown employment status or criminal records, replace Soccer City with a frozen Seafield pitch - suddenly it seems like the worst idea I've ever had.

I know I won't get a lot of sympathy for this, but all this free time has long since gotten old. Therefore this slowest of months, July, has been filled with notions of day trips and short breaks, some of which have come to fruition, others are pending a decision and one or two have been abandoned completely.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Leaving the world cup behind me, my journey took me through a former German colony, into Frankfurt, and then a connecting flight threw me, amongst largely German teens coming for summer schools, into London. This was significant because of course, England faced Germany in the first knockout phase.

Serena got me from the airport and I didn't get any exposure to the English media AT ALL until I set foot in Walkabout bar at Temple (£5 cover, £3.95 a pint of Guinness) and heard the BBC coverage. And I quote...

"Looking at these two teams, how many Germans would be automatic starters in the England side? One, perhaps two."

"Based on their performances so far, what we have here are two average sides."

To me, and surely the vast majority of the football world who haven't been deluded by a national media who instills a belief of some god-given right to a minimum achievement of a semi final appearance at every world cup finals, it came as absolutely no surprise that Germany ripped England apart. Having seen England play for only about 120 minutes, and having seen all of Germany's three games up 'til that point, I fail to see how professional analysts can be that blinkered when it comes to something that seems blatantly imbalanced to me.

What we had was effectively an ageing ("experienced" - English media) team who have always underperformed ("are familiar with each other's style of play") on the big stage, when they get there ("back where they belong"), who had scored 2 goals.

Playing against a young, quick, confident team who have scored 5 goals and dominated the only game they lost, despite having only 10 men.

The UK media is something that I will be finding very difficult to take seriously. I may not even be able to pick up the back pages of the Evening News.


My final tickets were for a meaningless fixture (on paper) between the all conquering Netherlands (one of the main reasons Scotland weren't in South Africa - them and Chris Iwumelo) and the woeful Cameroon. A game where the Netherlands were destined to finish top and Cameroon bottom unless the indomitable lions could only affect the outcome of the final table if they were to take the Dutch apart.

However the game provoked a lot of interest locally, the former Dutch colonial town as part of a country who largely wanted all African teams to do well (With the exception of the Algerians, whom it is clear are not perceived, or do not perceive themselves, as African). I was very interested to see the split of the local support. It was overwhelmingly Oranje.

Having left my fake sleveless vest era Cameroon strip in Vietnam, I dressed up warmly as a neutral and came armed with beer and my Vuvuzela. I had no plans to actually buy one of these things, but Henno had returned from Bloemfontein with an Orlando Pirates one for me, and when in South Africa, I have to leave white some black and white memorabilia.

The game was an interesting open affair, which passed us by as me and Henno caught up properly, he made his predictions about my future return to Vietnam, while we drank Bathwater
from the nosebleed seats at the back of the south stand.

At Ferryman's bar at the Waterfront, Henno and I met up with Alan and his Dad for a beer, and had to endure a rendition of "Ten German Bombers" from those jovial English football fans. Upon the completion of their friendly wartime anthem, the three of us pointed out in song, that "You'll all be flying Lufthansa going home". To which there was no reply, other than "You're Scottish? What are you doing at the World Cup?" Oh, you guys.

Lyrical improvisational is a theme I hope i will continue to enjoy, as I secured some tickets for Hana and I at the Fringe on one of the 2 for 1 days, and one of the shows features Abandoman, fromwhom I hope to pick up some tips to develop my skills.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Self catering

I have ended up in a backpackers in Stellenbosch for a few days, as Henno's parents house is running at full capacity. As luck would have it, I presently have what is effectively a studio apartment to myself, as none of the other 6 bunks are occupied.

One of the main things about Vietnam that stopped me from using my kitchen for anything other that a parking space, was that the supermarkets were crap. Yes, they catered well for the Vietnamese, who also dodge from place to place to pick up a fish here, a spice there and some rice somewhere in between. But I am really looking forward to filling my fridge once more with stuff from one conveniently well stocked location.

Anyway, after hearing my girlfriend's voice for the first time in ten days, I went to the Checkers supermarket and splurged 120ZAR to fill the fridge, and make myself some lunch. Apart from a little awkwardness in the fruit aisle, it was a great experience and I look forward to walking into Asda with a £10 note and filling my fridge for the weekend upon my return to Edinburgh.

The longest day

My next match saw me travelling east to Port Elizabeth, where I had tickets for Germany against Serbia. This involved an overnight coach trip from Stellenbosch which took around 9 hours and dumped me in PE at 6am, PE took a long while to wake up, so I explored the (empty) fan fest and found some breakfast.

I met up with the Lau Mann, and we headed down to the new stadium where he applied his retro face paint design just after we had seen the German team bus drift past.

Say what you want about the Germans, but the legacy of Saigon Raiders, Hofbrau Munchen, and the fact the two people I knew in PE that day were both German and both going to the game meant that I was (partially) wearing their colours that day.

In stark contrast to the Italy game, there was a more natural atmosphere in the stadium. The small pocket of Serbia fans were over by the main stand, although I was sat next to one of the few Serbs scattered randomly amongst what was overwhelmingly a German support, and I found myself at the corner flag in row 4 with large pockets of Germans behind me. This gave me a great view of Ozil's back as he took corner after corner, but the Germans ultimately fell foul to bad luck while playing a strong opponent.

This meant that the German fans were getting frustrated, and with frustration comes rapid hand gestures. Germans generally come with beer, so put the two together and you get... second half beer showers. This was not well received by the locals and the small number of Americans who were in the vicinity. These two groups of 'soccer' fans were also vociferous in their displeasure at people standing during the game, so there were a number of unsavoury exchanges during this game which culminated about 12 rows behind me in a large scale bout of handbags.

I spoke to Richard Schreiber after the game, who was at the time sitting in Johannesburg contemplating USA's exit before they came back from the dead to draw with Slovenia. He's going back to the US fairly soon, so would only see him again if I was to end up on the west coast, which isn't out of the realms of possibility by any stretch.

After feeding and beering up, it was time to observe England's abject failure to produce anything like top class football, and then try to meet Henno's mate Chris who was putting me up for the night. They were in a club, and trying to identify them proved a bit tricky. I had to keep myself going with Jaegerbombs as I was approaching the end of a day in which I had been on my feet for a good 20 hours, but eventually it was over.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My debut

One of the few drawbacks about this (or any) world cup is the commanding bargaining position that Budweiser find themselves in. Honest football fans, who want to inebriate themselves against the cold, their own team's ineptitude, or Vuvuzelas... whatever it may be, are subject to Anheuser-Busch's ability to outbid tasty beer companies to the exclusivity of official beer of football. Meaning football fans have to drink this piss-water.

Anyway, as mid afternoon arrived, it was time to leave our base camp and head into the city. Unfortunately this meant missing some of the first half of Japan's clash with Cameroon, and in particular a moment which I know brought a lot of joy to my other half, 5 time zones away.

As the car was dropped at the train station and we exited the vehicle, we were approached (something that happens quite frequently in this neck of the woods) by a lady asking for a jump start. With no cables on board, we gave her a push. And another. And another. Her battery was well and truly goosed and the car wasn't starting, but the point of this anecdote is to highlight an urban myth about exercise in the tropics.

I've heard people commenting in the past that "if I went back home and played football now, I wouldn't have any problems after running around in the humidity of Vietnam." Utter cack. If you are used to breathing in 35 degree air and then exert yourself in 8 degree weather, your lungs will not like it. Now I'm not one for suffering culture shock especially, but I've experienced this horrible phenomenon a couple of times now, and it's one of the few things that take me by surprise.

This was all en route to my first ever International football match, Italy .v. Paraguay. Now, I was already on the South Americans' side, having adopted the lesser known nations from the CONMEBOL region as my teams of choice. This standpoint was only strengthened by the surprising number of Italia branded Afrikaans speakers I encountered on the way to Green Point.

I had a great seat, right on the corner flag at the end both goals were scored. Check out the video to see (and hear). Vuvuzelas deserve their own entry. That will come later.

My impression of the game itself was simply that everything was much brighter than any other game of football I had ever experienced before. The quality of the game itself was nothing out of the ordinary, the atmosphere was forgettable but the experience was made memorable by how vivid and seamless everything was. It was an amazing spectacle. But I have seen dozens of better football games, experienced a hundred better atmospheres.

However this tournament is just warming up.

In transit

So a nice gentle flight ensued from HCMC to Kuala Lumpur, allowing me to watch games 3 and 4 of the World Cup I was en route to during my medium length stopover. I immediately found seemingly the only bar in KLIA that showed football and ordered some overpriced beer and food to sustain me as South Korea dismantled Greece and Argentina edged Nigeria. Found myself sat next to an English teacher from Yokohama who plays in the Tokyo Metropolitan league, so i got the lowdown from him on football in Japan and enlightened him on "Bong Da".

Unfortunately I had to fly during the England USA game, but my little blue friend and the tickets I collected upon arrival at Cape Town International rendered that a minor irritation (combined with the fact that Robert Green's blunder will be repeated on TV for eons - much to my delight).

Collected by my host family Kotze, we made the way to Stellenbosch, the Afrikaans University town that I had visited on a whirlwind tour of the Western Cape, on a day's respite from my penguin squeezing adventures 5 years ago. Coming from stuffy Saigon, the first thing I noticed was the temperature, and how insufficient my wardrobe is for the coming couple of weeks. I'm basically having to wear all the warm weather clothes I have at once, so I'm fooked if I get soaked.

Helping the culture shock to remain at a minimum, is a very accommodating host family including three cats, to soften the blow of leaving my own two behind.

The final farewell...

Writing this from my temporary abode in the Cape Winelands of South Africa, it's time to reflect a little on the past few week or so. Wednesday onwards saw me saying my goodbyes to the various characters from Saigon, slightly tempered by (what now appears to have been) a badly bruised rib, sustained the previous Saturday in the Bayon Challenge 11 a side football tournament in Phnom Penh. Karaoke would normally have been on the agenda, but as any sudden use of my lungs would bring pain, I had to settle for quiet drinks instead.

I had a sneak peek at the Bitexco tower, what will be (temporarily) the tallest building in Viet Nam. The photo is a view of Ben Thanh Market, taken from around about the 56th floor I believe.

Phatty's was chosen as an accessible meeting point for lunch with Hana (and a quick beer with Fraser) before I went to Tan Son Nhat airport for the last time. Of course, being Saturday afternoon, Saigon Saints were meeting there, but that wasn't what lost me my appetite for my last lunch in the country I had called home for just short of three years.

And so, onto KL.