Thursday 24 March 2011



With a new house there are - of course - some things that need fixing. Such as a broken water heater in the kitchen. The process was a little more involved and more interesting than I expected.

Day 1, a technician diagnosed the problem: the on/off switch had burned out. (Interestingly, the wires were disconnected from the burned out switch and neatly capped off.)

Day 2, another technician confirmed the diagnosis, and took out the burned part of the switch.

Day 3, a third technician came to install the replacement part. He took the cover plate off, and then asked if he could use my sandals. I did a double take, and then realised that he was planning to install the switch on live wires with only the protection of the rubber soles of my sandals. He declined the offer to switch off power, and expertly installed the switch. Wearing my sandals. Impressive, and a little scary. Do not try this at home.

Monday 21 March 2011


Our stuff finally arrived from London last week, and we have moved into our permanent place. Finally out of our hotel - sorry, serviced apartment.


OK, our move did not quite look like this. Though it was not quite what I was used to.

At previous moves, I have seen two Dutchmen, four Mexicans, three Polish-Australians, and four English show up. The same move packed by four English in two days was unloaded and unpacked in a little over two hours by ten Vietnamese.

Admitted, the unpacking did not result in a single sensibly ordered closet anywhere. But nothing broke, as far as we have seen, and nothing's missing.

Monday 14 March 2011

Don't Wait...

for a better opportunity. In photography, I mean. (No life lessons on this blog.) Take it when you can. If you get a better opportunity later, you can always chuck the first shot. If not, at least you got it.

Chicken in Bamboo Street

For example, the above shot is of a random chicken on the street in Hanoi. It now serves as a meagre surrogate for the rooster that used to sit on the street corner opposite the Intercontinental Hotel in HCMC. The story would have been so much better...

Friday 11 March 2011

Ho Chi Minh City House Hunt Highlights

In anticipation of ending (finally) our house hunt, here are some highlights, accompanied by a few quick snaps. If all goes well we will be taking possession of the keys to our house here tomorrow, and move out of temporary accommodation next week.

First, a house is called a villa here. And many do have definite White House aspirations. For example, two-story columns on the front.

Other favourites include the sweeping spiral stairway in the living room and 15ft ceilings.

Then there are the quirky design features. Such as a swimming pool in the living room.

This house also was a beautiful design with a curved glass wall on one side (left in the picture). Would have been very beautiful and light and if the house would have been built more than a foot away from the neighbour's house.

But my favourite was the very airy house with the round atrium in the middle reaching all the way to a large round skylight in the roof. No doors, and all rooms give out on this central space. Very nice. Especially the fountain with the three nymphs and multi-coloured lighting on the ground floor.

We went for something slightly more restrained.

Tuesday 8 March 2011


Another spiral stairwell

Simple tip to improve your photography, in two parts:
  1. shoot more;
  2. show only the best.
For example, I took the above shot because I liked the curve and lighting of this spiral stairwell in the atrium of a hotel. I also took 27 other shots of the same stairwell. From the 6th floor down to the 3rd floor; from straight down to oblique angles; from below; with people on it, etc. Some of these 27 are OK, some are horrible, and most are boring. None are as good as this one, and none will ever be shown.

Why does this work (for me)?

Trying all these different angles helps me hone in on the 'best' angle. Some people just walk around their subject and look, and then take one shot. Some take even more shots than I do. But you'll get many more good shots by giving your subject a good look first. Experience (by shooting a lot) also helps of course.

And only showing the best gives me slightly better odds of not looking like an idiot with a too-expensive camera.

Oh, and in case you think this is very clever - this approach is far from original.

Friday 4 March 2011

A Wired Nation

A wired nation

This is quite typical for Ho Chi Minh City. Frenetic traffic and scary wiring (sometimes with loose ends dangling onto the sidewalk).

And it has its foibles. We can attest to the value of a generator, after four power cuts today... Correction, make that five.

I will be shopping for a UPS, because even a good generator leaves a few seconds of no power. Laptops are fine. External drives and routers, not so much.

Wednesday 2 March 2011


Hồ Hoàn Kiếm
Sword lake.

Last week, we spent a few days in Hanoi, Vietnam's capital. More dignified, stylish, charming, and less frenetic than Saigon. Though not nearly as tranquil as this shot may make it appear. And traffic may be less busy than Saigon, that is compensated for by a more aggressive driving style. Less busy, but in the end, scarier.

I did not spend as much time looking around as I wanted to, distracted as I was by some offerings to the porcelain god. So for now only a few superficial impressions and comparisons to Ho Chi Minh City.

First and foremost, Hanoi is a lot better in maintaining its history. The old town still has many French colonial buildings, and the entire district is still laid out as before - organised by guild (Cotton Street, Bamboo Street, Fish Street, etc.) with really narrow and long 'tube houses'. Nice to see that not everything is being torn down for yet another gleaming highrise.

Hanoi is almost 2 hours flying north. It is less sunny and a lot colder at this time of year (18°C vs. 34°C ‐- or 65F vs. 94F).

Finally, a little opinion: the people in HCMC seem a little friendlier and laid back, while the food is heartier up north (more meat, more deep fried, a little less fruit and veg).