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Friday, 29 February 2008

Things I've eaten, or tried to.

I work on the theory that if something is fruit or fruit related it can't be that bad. I've even tried durian which tasted like dairylea cheese and onions to me. It didn't make me gag but I didn't go back for seconds either.

Then I saw these in a supermarket:

Odd sweets I found in the supermarket

It's official, tomato is a fruit, of course, working on that premise so is sweetcorn. I thought I'd give them a try. Clearly I'm not as brave fruitwise as I like to pretend because I bought them two months ago and they've been hiding at the back of the food shelves since then.

Unwrapped sweetcorn sweet

I went for the sweetcorn first, it seemed less scary, I've had sweetcorn sprinkled on ice cream before and it wasn't too bad. Tasting notes: strong initial taste of petrol which mellows to rubber with a tang of raw sweetcorn thrown in. Did I finish it? No, I got to the chewing stage and gave up when my gag reflex hit in.

Tomato candy frightened me without tasting it but I forced myself.

Offending article, tomato candy unwrapped

Knowledge tells us that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom prevents us from putting it into fruit salad.
-Miles Kington
This Korean delicacy was sticky and gummy on the outside, I'm not sure if that's deliberate or caused by the amount of time it's hung around in the apartment. Taste? Half an hour later and a glass of water with lemon juice and my mouth still tastes disgusting. It's sweet of course but the oddest thing about it is that it really tastes of tomato, it should, it proudly boasts Tomato powder as an ingredient. It tasted powerfully of slightly metalic tomato doused in sugar syrup. I can't fully explain how revolting I found this. Did I finish it, no, I barely got the sticky stuff off the outside before I was heading for the bin. They're a tough bunch the Koreans. I'm going to test it out on colleagues today.

Official food bravey rating: Wuss

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Cambodia, light tourism

Following the rather serious last post I felt the need to return to what this is all about; pictures of things I like.

Here's an elephant. Who doesn't like elephants? This one works at a local park taking people for short rides, some time after 3pm she has a wander down the main riverside road stopping off for snacks.

Visiting elephant

The first time I saw her I made two assumptions, first that her mahout was getting money from people for posing with the elephant for pictures, he wasn't, he just wandered along beside her. Second I guessed she was getting fruit trimmings, wrong again, she got nicely arranged trays of fresh fruit including whole sliced pineapples. She looks in very good condition, it can't be too bad a life.

A tree decorated for Valentine's Day from the kind people at Coca Cola. I love you, may your teeth rot.

Valentine's Tree

Romance is not dead

This dog knows it looks silly.

Fashion victim

It looked even more long suffering the day before in a pink frilly blouse.

Barber Surgeon

Barber Surgeon

The face mask, while adding a nice hygienic touch, was necessary, this is a very busy road just over the wall from the local crematorium.

An ox cart hauling pottery kitchen goods, a nice touch of the countryside in the city.

Ox Cart Phom Penh

Meaty snacks:

Closeup of Cambodian roasted insects

I'm guessing cockroach but to my shame I didn't try them, a Cambodian girl told me that spiders tasted better anyway and they didn't have any on this stall.

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Dark Tourism

We bussed down to Phnom Penh on what felt like the bumpiest bus in the world but it took less than five hours so it wasn't too bad.

Siem Reap had been very laid back and easy to like, Phnom Penh is more abrasive and certainly wears it's seedier side closer to the surface. There are lots of beggars and children selling things on the street, I know some people find this difficult to cope with. I formulated a coping mechanism where I gave money to people with disabilities because there's no social security to speak of and avoided giving money to children. I, perhaps wrongly, believe that giving children money keeps them on the streets and saw some of the organisation of begging and hawking with older children and adults "taking care" of the money. Someone had advised me to offer food to children which seemed like a good cop out position for me to adopt.

However, seedy and impoverished as it is, it's fun place to be, people are generally very good natured and saying "No" with a smile worked most of the time.

It's impossible to visit Cambodia without facing up to the atrocities of the Pol Pot era and with that in mind we visited Tuol Sleng or S21 prison. The torture centre where an estimated 17,000 were processed and eventually executed in order to extract confessions or biographies from them proving their position as enemies of the cause. Some of these enemies were children and babies.

It's with no apology that I'm posting these disturbing images and I deliberately avoided some of the more harrowing shots available.

On initial viewing the building is just like so many other schools of the same era, many buildings exactly like this are still in use today. The normality of it is possibly the most shocking aspect.

How to be a good torture victim.
Rules for torture

Detailed records were kept and photographs taken of each suspect as they arrived.
Museum of genocide


These are displayed in two rooms, they make difficult viewing as so many portaits seem to gaze directly into your eyes.

Single cell, Tuol Sleng

Sngle cells filled the upper floors, tiny and the only furnishing being a chain or a hasp to hold shackles.

S21 Les 3 Chevaliers

I couldn't find anyone who could tell me whether this was scratched on the wall during or after Toul Sleng's use as a torture and genocide centre but it seemed so incongruous I had to include it.

Barbed wire was strung over windows and walkways to stop victims throwing themselves to their deaths, surely a better proposition than remaining alive in this Hell of a place.

S1 Barbed wire

In a cage in a corner I saw these concrete busts of Pol Pot, presumably they're displayed in such a manner to limit understandable vandalism.

Caged busts of Pol Pot

Visit if you can.

Cambodia, Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

Cambodia was a very interesting destination, we flew in from Singapore cheaper than we could do from HCMC, Vietnam Airlines has the monopoly on flights from here and charge accordingly.

Unfortunately I was a bit unwell during this visit and it showed in the number and quality of photographs I took. There were so many other things I wish I'd captured but I suspect I'll be back at some time.

Meanwhile, some pictures of Angkor Wat which was the reason for going to Siem Reap:

We hired a Tuk Tuk for one and a half days and headed out at about 4pm to get our tickets for the following day, this also gives you access to the temple complex in the evening so the plan was to head to a high spot and see the sunset.

Mass influx

And see the sunset we did along with half the visitor population of Siem Reap it seemed. The steps up are very steep and narrow, I enjoyed watching people negotiate them in heels.

We headed out again early the next morning and started at the Angkor Wat complex. It was fairly quiet at this time of day.

Angkor Wat early morning light

People were going about their everyday business and it felt quite tranquil

Rippling robes, Angkor Wat

Also the resident primates were about.

Temple resident

Although I caught this one in repose they're packed full of attitude and will steal anything they can pry from your grip.

From there we went to Bayon:

Bayon entrance 1

The entrance causeway is flanked by these imposing demons, the other side has more benign figures of Buddha but I liked these, they reminded me of a New Zealand tug of war team.

The Bayon complex was my favourite, I enjoyed the massive structures and giant smiles. If I were to go again I'd go first thing in the morning or last thing at night as the light changes.

Bayon smile 1

From here we went to Ta Prohm, the temple complex taken over by the jungle, it was awe inspiring and nicely shaded in the heat of the day.

Tree temple

As always there are more pictures on the flickr account if you're not satiated yet but fewer than normal as my lack of photographic skills were horribly exposed on this visit.

It's very busy, there are touts and hawkers everywhere, it's hell on the knees climbing the steep steps but despite all this if you're in this part of the world it would be a sin to miss out on it.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Singapore Quickie

A flying trip to Singapore for a medical appointment and a knicker buying excursion to Marks and Spencer didn't leave much time for taking pictures but I grabbed a few when I had the chance.

A few tall buildings:
Tall Building

Central Business District

These were taken from the roof of "Our Village" which Stephen still claims to be his favourite Indian Restaurant in the Entire World.

Some Lunar New Year decorations in the lobby of the Pan Pacific, we didn't stay there, we were on a budget this time but it was worth while going in to see what they had managed to do with their ridiculously tall atrium.

Pan Pacific Lobby 1

A BOGOF beer at Boat Quay

Happy half hour

And a view of a very educational poster about the dangers of "double dipping"?

Double Dipping

Double Dipping, just say "No!"

We managed to fit in some good meals before heading off to Cambodia, I'm back in March with work so I might managed to take some more interesting pictures then.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Tet flower market, Saigon

As Tet approaches it seems like everyone goes flower crazy. The biggest market I've seen so far is in the park between Pham Ngu Lau and the New World Hotel. The plants are incredible and I was sorely tempted to buy some but we're going away over Tet and it's never pleasant to come home to dead plants so I limited myself to taking pictures of them.

Crimson and yellow

Yellow and red are the predominant colours being sold but there's lots of variety of plant related objects, like fruit rats.

Fruit rats

These stand about a metre and a half high and are made from a yellow waxy fruit which I don't recognise. They're sold in pairs and are, for want of a better description, striking. You might be able to see that they're entwined with fairy lights too. Nice.

Kumquat trees are very popular, I don't know if this shape is traditional of if it's borrowed from Christmas trees. They'll look spectacular when the fruit ripens.

Kumquat topiary

Orchids are popular too, here's a perfect white blossom:

White Orchid

Of course, at times something a little more decorative is required, so why not buy an orchid planted into a straw dog's head on a plate?

Dog head on a plate

Just to be on the safe side...
Keeping order

... the police maintain a presence. You never know when flower buying could turn nasty and I'm sure stall holders can sleep more peacefully knowing that they're there


That's it, I expect the next posting will be on our jaunt to Singapore and Cambodia, Happy New Year.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Tet Celebrations

Just recovering from the excesses of the Christmas decorations the city fathers have gone all out to provide more lights for Tet. It doesn't have the same kitsch factor that Christmas has but it's worth the extra long power cuts we get on Tuesday to power the lights.Le Loi and Dong Khoi are both fully illuminated but Nguyen Hue is still under construction, it looks like it's going to be a pretty spectacular floral arrangement the entire length of the street. I'll try to get back during the day but we're off to Singapore then Cambodia on Sunday so I might miss it. Meanwhile, here are some pretty pictures of pretty lights.

Le Loi, Tet

Le Loi is in the same colour scheme as Christmas but with the seasonal addition of yellow blossoms and full moon balloons. This is the car lane, it's odd to see cars that aren't partially marrooned amongst motorbikes.

Moon ballons, Le Loi

A closeup of the aforementioned moon balloons.

One Face

The bike lane and the pavement beside it were awash with people on bikes out doing their pre Tet business. We parked up in a school that was being used as an overflow bike park and walked but even that was a bit hairy at times.

Dong Khoi, once called Rue Catanat, is all red lanterns and dangly lights.

Dong Khoi at Tet

D&GTet sale

What's new year without a sale?

The Caravelle has my favourite lights, the Vietnamese Flag rendered in strings of fairy lights.

Caravelle Hotel

Its gearing up to get even more crazy at Tet approaches. In a way it's a pity we'll miss it but for the actual Lunar New Year celebrations most things close down and people spend the time with their families. Anyway, have holidays must travel.