Sunday, 13 December 2009

Canberra, Australia

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,

Well, since our last post we have travelled a further 4800km back to Canberra, fortunately not in a campervan though, we decided to fly. We searched the internet for a week for a cheap way to get back to the east side of Australia and eventually we found Qantas flights cheaper than Virgin and Jet Star. It seems that if you’re looking for flights well in advance, the budget airlines are the way to go but If you’re looking for flights a week or less in advance, look at Qantas.
We really enjoyed our stay in Perth and the trip over and the last week was spent exploring Perth and the surrounding areas. As we were right in town, we toured the city on the free city busses. The water front area near the Bell Tower is a spectacular spot and also has the giant Ferris Wheel as well the ferry port and waterside restaurants. We also explored the beach side areas of City Beach and Scarborough and the inner city areas of Subiaco and Northbridge offering great food and dining opportunities. We also travelled a bit further afield to Rockingham, 50km south and a tranquil seaside town still unaffected by high rise and other modern big city problems. Another place we visited was New Norcia, a monastic town, owned and run by a group of Benedictine Monks, which has some interesting history and buildings.

One of the high lights for me was visiting Fremantle, home to the WA sailing fraternity. As a sailor myself, it was great to visit as it was the venue for one of Australia’s greatest sailing victories when we won the Americas Cup in 1987. Apart from the fascinating town centre, many historical buildings and street scapes, the Maritime museum and wharf E-market shed, we decided to take a closer look, on the water. We saw a tall ship at the wharf the Leeuwin II, a replica of an earlier tall ship that sailed in these waters 200 years ago. We went out on a twilight sail between 4 and 8pm and sailed about 3 quarters of the way to Rottnest Island, an Island about 20km offshore from Perth. It was a fabulous cruise as it unfurled about 8 of its sails with the aid of a crew of 6 professional sailors, the officers and a team of volunteers, about 20 on our cruise and additional help from the guests, including me. It was a lot of fun doing the navy chant, 2, 6 heave, as we pulled up the sails. After all the sails were up, some of the more adventurous folks (me) climbed the mast and the bow sprit, took the helm for a while and generally pretended to be a pirate for a few hours, great fun.

The following day though it was far more serious, I headed to the Fremantle Sailing Club with an appointment to sail on a racing yacht, an ‘Adams 13’ about 45 foot, named ‘The Long Boat’ with skipper and owner Ole and his wife Annie and crew, eight in total. FSC is a very big Club and marina with a lot of active sailing and racing vessels. The day I sailed there, a two day ocean race started at 9am that morning so the afternoon race we participated in was short on numbers, however there were 9 other yachts in our class and there were 3 other divisions. It was a splendid day but a bit short on wind but it was a great way to see the bay and the coastline from the boat.

We have been in Canberra a week now and looking for work and for house sitting positions and deciding what we should do next as we needed some stability back in our lives. I checked out the Canberra Yacht club during the week and went down for a sail today. I sailed on a ‘Magic 25’ class sports racing boat named ‘Houdini’ and had a lot of fun although it was very light wind. The boat has a trapeze which I haven’t used before but I had a great time up on the side of the boat.
It looks like we will be in Canberra for Christmas and we are still homeless, jobless, car less and still trying to decide what to do next. Once again we will let you know one way or another.

All the best for now.

Ric & Louise

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Perth, Australia

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
It has been 2 weeks and some 4800km latter and we are now in Perth. Our trip started Monday 2 weeks ago when we left Melbourne in the rain and a mild 28 degrees. We hired were delivering a Toyota Hiace van with a fixed high roof for this leg of the journey. It was a comfortable van aprox. 07 model, but with more than 300,000km on the clock they re-badge them from Appolo to Cheapa Camper. Fitted out with a fridge, microwave, stove, kettle, toaster etc, it was similar to our own van, except the sleeping position was in the rear of the van and not very comfortable in the sitting position. Our first night was spent just before the start of the Great Ocean Road.

As I mentioned in the last post, it has been 21 years since we were last in this part of the world, the biggest change being that there are not as many Apostles as there once were and one of the London Bridge land arches has collapsed. This 30 km stretch of road follows the coast cliffs with views of the 12 Apostles, sandstone pillars left in the ocean by erosion and the London Bridge and the blowhole are tunnels through sections of the rock faces. New fencing, board walks and other well placed lookouts are a great enhancement. We stopped a dozen or more time as we found yet more vantage spots to view the spectacle from. It is well worth taking the time to do and can be done as a day trip from Melbourne.

We stayed overnight at Mt Gambier and stopped to gaze at The Blue Lakes, the bluest water imaginable, it has something to do with them being volcano craters. From the ocean to volcano craters our third night has by the banks of the Murray River at the appropriately named Murray Bridge. Only 50km outside Adelaide we enjoyed our stay by the river and exploring a marina full of house boats, it’s always about who has the biggest and best and some were floating mansions.

That afternoon and the following 2 days, the temperature soared to 43 degrees with a very uncomfortable hot dry wind blowing strait in from the desert. We crept into Adelaide to find Louise’s school friend Trish and her husband Derrick. Fortunately they had aircon and a pool and we had a couple of quite days keeping out of the heat. We really enjoyed catching up with Trish again after so long and hope it not another 20 something years.

We picked up our second campervan on Saturday morning and fortunately a soothing cold front moved in to cool things down to about 23 degrees which was a blessing. However our next campervan turned out to be a bit disappointing. It was a Backpacker van and very basic. The van was a Mitsubishi, new enough with only 30,000Km, but really very basic with no fridge or microwave and a stove that makes cooking too difficult, we chose to cook in the camp kitchens where possible. With no ceiling height it made manoeuvring in the van when the bed was made up a little like a beached whale flapping about, still better than a tent, but we had a week to look forward to in this van. The rain came down as we started out on our Nullarbor crossing.

This was the beginning of the really big driving days, 700km to Streaky Bay, 850 to Madura Pass in WA and a further 750km into Esperance. We particularly enjoyed Streaky Bay and we had a couple of good viewing points along the Nullarbor of the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight. The cool conditions remained with us for the whole trip across and by the time we got to Esperance it was a mild 28 degrees again. We loved Esperance and decided we had to live there and get jobs there immediately, but in hind sight it was just an extreme reaction to crossing the Nullarbor and then finding this Jewell at the end. We found we were just as impressed by Albany and the Margaret River region. We did a spectacular tree top walk outside Walpole and I did a light house tour in Augusta at the intersection of the Southern and Indian Oceans. We spent a full day visiting wineries in Margaret River and we stayed in another nice town we would like to live in, Mandurah last night before rolling into Perth this morning. It’s certainly cheaper and quicker to fly across the bottom of Australia, but if you have a couple of weeks to spare, it’s a road trip to remember.

We are booked into a very ordinary apartment right in town in Perth. It’s cheap and the position is great, we have a hire car to explore the area for the next week or so and see what fate has in store for us. All the best for now.
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Melbourne, Australia

Dear Ethel, Family and Friends,
We have been back in Australia a week now, the big wedding is over and the Bride and Groom are now on their honeymoon in Paris. It was a relaxed and enjoyable wedding and Louise’s niece Katie looked fabulous as the Vintage Austin Princess (the car) pulled up the drive to the Chapel at Cockington Green, near Gungarlin, Canberra. Seventy five guests waited as the four bridesmaids filed down the aisle where the Groom Wayne awaited. After the ceremony and photos, the party retired to a large marquee close by to celebrate into the night. We stayed with Louise’s Brother Ian and Sally his wife, parents of the Bride and a pleasant time was had by all. Video still forthcoming.

During the week after the wedding, we have been wondering what to do with ourselves, as we hadn’t given it much thought up until the wedding was over. There have been no descent job offers from Vietnam so we cancelled the return fare back to Saigon. While I had been looking for jobs on the internet, Louise was revisiting an Idea she had a few year ago, Campervan relocation, driving the vans to the places they are needed. It didn’t take us long to make the decision. We browsed the website and made a few phone calls and we had an itinerary. Depending on the route and location, fuel is offered for the trips and a number of days to complete it, however further days can be purchased to make the journeys more comfortable and enjoyable. As we still had an airfare back to Melbourne as part of our trip back to Saigon, we decided it’s a good place to start and Louise has a Nephew here, David and his wife Catherine and their two grown up girls.

Our new adventure starts tomorrow, Monday 16th November when we pick up a campervan in Melbourne and drive to Adelaide along the Great Ocean Road, about 1000km. Louise & I actually did this journey twenty one years ago as our first holiday together when we drove from Sydney to Adelaide via Melbourne. Anyway we have four days to do this leg and accommodation will be better than the tent we did it in last time. We have a few days in Adelaide and will stay with a school friend of Louise’s from Bathurst who we stayed with way back then. Mmm still remember doing the Nutbush dance on Henley Beach on New Year’s Eve with Trish, circa 1988. Following Adelaide, we get another van and drive 3000km across the Nullarbor Plains to Perth via Albany, Esperance and Margaret River. We have never been to Perth before and thought this would be a good stand alone trip and the ideal time to do it.
Well, call us crazy if you will, we think we are but we have no fixed address, no jobs and no place to be until at least March when we can get our house back again. However anything can happen between now and then. We’ll let you know how it goes, all the best until then.
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Back in Saigon

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

We are now back in Saigon after our 2 week Sojourn in Nha Trang. We had a great time and thoroughly recommend it as a mid to long term destination and defiantly a ‘must stop’ on your way through Vietnam. The Beaches here are fantastic. We have said many times that as we live on the Sunshine Coast in Australia, it is hard to impress us with a beach. It is equal to anything in North Queensland with the tropical feeling, beautiful green rolling mountains in the back ground and lots of Islands dotted around the Bay. There are no real waves but it is a paradise for swimming, snorkeling, diving and sailing. Yes I finally got out sailing, only on one of those resort style hobiecats but lots of fun all the same. Although I prefer to spend my time on top of the water sailing, I decided to go diving as well.

The day I went diving was a miserable day, It was raining when I got up and driselling on our way out to the Islands. The diving guide made all the usual jokes about it not raining underwater to cheer us up. I have been diving a couple of times before on assisted dives which are great, as an experienced diver takes you down and guides you about. My guide was a young French girl named Marie who spoke perfect English but with that sexy French accent. Despite the rain, it was wonderful under the water, after my first few seconds hesitation, I remembered how to relax and breathe underwater. I was really amazed by how much coral and the number of fish down there. The group of 5 Islands off Nha Trang is a marine park so I did 2, 30 minute dives and It cost me about $60AUD.

There is a huge cable car connecting the Mainland to the first main Island, taking you to a gigantic theme park, Vinpearl Land. Although it’s not very ecological or attractive from the mainland as the land has been carved out of the side of a hill, the theme park is an amazing engineering feat, the sheer size and scale is astounding. The most amazing thing and more impressive than the cable car itself, is the aquarium. It is the size of the Darling Harbour aquarium in Sydney with an underwater tunnel walk with airport style conveyor belt. It has a large collection of Sharks, Stingrays, Turtles, Eel’s and all the fish you would expect. A waterslide park is another part of the park and I tried as many as were open. One in particular, the sink hole didn’t really agree with my neck, however after the masseur walked up and down my spine that afternoon the damage was repaired. There is also a collection of outdoor amusement rides, a great roller coaster, the chair ‘O plane, Pirate ship and one that I could only call the spasmatron (whirls you around, upside down 50 feet in the air) and some great inside amusements including a 4D movie cinema, a 3D cinema with moving seats. It all makes a really good day out but there were only about 50 in the place and more than a couple of hundred staff.

We caught up with our friend Diana again on her way back to Saigon. We took her to all our favourite restaurants in Nha Trang, French and Spanish being the best. We also caught up with another TESOL Graduate from Australia, Wheelie Pete. He is one admirable man, tackling Vietnam in a wheelchair he has recently completed a 5000km journey around Vietnam and Laos on a motorbike and is currently teaching English in Nha Trang. He took us to a great beach 20km south of Nha Trang where we lay around on a beach similar to Noosa North Shore and ate seafood.

Poor Louise is almost over her cold now and has spent most of the 2 weeks getting over it. We caught the train back to Saigon again and are now in our favourite Hotel the Hao Hoa . We have caught up with a few groups of students so far with more to go this evening and more to eat I guess. We have some job interviews on Monday and Wednesday and will be flying back to Australia on Thursday night. If we get some serious offers we will come back as we still have the return tickets, if not we will stay in Australia for Christmas.

All the best for now
Ric & Louise

Monday, 19 October 2009

[Postcards to Ethel] Nha Trang, Vietnam

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog and a number of things have changes since then. The main one being that we are no longer teaching at Sea English Academy. In short the school didn’t have the correct licenses to carry on and couldn’t afford to keep us both. We are still disappointed with the way things transpired but have moved on now, literally and metaphorically.

We left the school at the beginning of the month and waited around in Saigon for a week or so collecting our thoughts. During this time we attended a number of social functions with the students who gave us a lot of mutual support, we have all become good friends as a result. We attended a food and hospitality trade show which was great for the students as most of them are Bakers or Chefs. It was great to see their reaction to things they had never seen before and eat things like olives, capers, cheese cake and many other things on display. Also it gave them a good chance to talk to the exhibitors in English. We were also invited to one student’s houses, Mr Ha. The other students attended as well and we feasted over spring rolls and seafood hotpot. Following this was a trip to a Garden district area, Binh Quoi, popular for weddings and wedding photography. It is a very picturesque area with photo opportunity spots every few feet. The students then treated us to an 84 course buffet. Talk about food overload. Between 8 of us we only managed about 22 courses. Louise and I were stumped after about 8 of them but I have never seen anyone eat as much as skinny 4 foot tall Vietnamese girls!

We had another Australian visitor as well, Dianna form Noosa and an ex-postie as well. It is always good to catch up with friends but also good to get another prospective on things. At nearly 70, Dianna is a particularly brave and gutsy woman doing a month long trip to Vietnam Cambodia and Laos by herself. I gave her a lift on the back of the motorbike; I think she was thankful for my Australia Post experience. Following our meeting with Dianna, we decided to do a trip down to the Mekong Delta. It was a 3 day organised trip on the busses. In hindsight it would have been better to do the 2 day trip as the 3 day version was an excuse to take half the group to the boarder of Cambodia. Also the Delta Floating Hotel is possibly the worst hotel in Vietnam, but definitely the worst hotel we have stayed in. Day 1 and day 2 of the sightseeing was fine, visiting the Mekong River on a variety of different river craft and seeing Floating markets, Floating villages, Coconut Candy Factory, Rice paper factory, Rice Husking Mill, Pagodas and temples. The Hotel on the first night was good enough for a one star but getting there proved an adventure. Getting in and out of Vinh Long can only be achieved by river at this stage until the new bridge is completed in 6 months time. Until then however, ferries service the river continuously 24 hours a day. Despite this there is always a 2 hour or more delay to cross the river unless its dusk when its 4 hours and coincidently when the tour organises to cross every day. The guide helpfully pointed out that if we all chipped in, we could afford to rent a boat for the 20 of us. We all agreed as it was only 10,000 each (80c) but involved a 1 mile hike to the river and a river crossing in the dark. Still it was a fun adventure although badly organised on the part of the tour operators. Of course we had the 2 hour wait the following day. Day 3 included a very brief local minority village visit and the fish farm stop then an 8 hour trip back to Saigon, plus a compulsory 3 hour stop in My Tho to gather the remaining one and two day trippers. All in all, we saw a lot of the Mekong which is what it’s all about. However we won’t be doing any more organised trips here based on our experience.

We booked train tickets from Saigon to Nha Trang. The train was a great way to travel. It was an 8pm train and arrived in Nha Trang in at 5.30am the following day. The train itself was clean and comfortable, one of the best train journeys we have done. We took the soft sleeper which sleeps 4 on double bunks and cost about $25AUD each. We were in Nha Trang very early but as we walked the short distances 1 Km or so to the tourist district, we were approached by the hotel touts. We were lucky enough with the one we followed, or did he follow us? Anyway the hotel is $10US a night with a view of the beach, 4th floor and Wi-Fi included. Great value 1 star! We haven’t done much since arriving, Louise caught a cold and has been house bound for 3 of the last 4 days, but it looks like a great spot, I’ve done a bit of investigating on a bicycle and we hired a motorbike today. There is food from everywhere in the world here so we will eat our way around the world one night at a time. Our friend Dianna is due here in about 4 days time, so look forward to catching up again.

As for the future, well that’s out of our hands as usual, we have a few interviews when we get back to Saigon. We still have return airfares to Australia that we booked 2 months ago, so the plan is, if we can secure some proper work before we leave here, we will return on about 16th of November if not, we will leave Vietnam on the 5th of November and look elsewhere.
Sorry this has gone on so long, but it took a while to get back into the mood for writing, but I think that’s cured and I hope the next post is a bit more entertaining.
All the best until next time.

Ric & Louise

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Independence Day, Vietnam Week 9

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

Today is an important day in Vietnam’s history and a Public Holiday celebrating the Independence of Vietnam. Although this day in 1945 celebrates the day that Ho Chi Minh pronounced Independence for Vietnam from outside influences, namely Japan and French Colonialists, however it was a long time until Vietnam was finally able to govern itself. After the defeat of the Japanese in 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared Independence, but had to fight the French in the Indochina War from 1946 to 1949. Vietnam was then partitioned into the north and the South. The French eventually withdrew from Vietnam only to be replaced by the Americans. The Vietnam War lasted from 1959 until 1975. The US sent combat troops in 1965.Vietnam has only been Reunified since 1976 after the Defeat of the American and Allied troops. It’s been a long road for the Vietnamese people and they are a strong and proud Country.

Having said that, after doing my research we went to look for of some marching bands, flag waving and some other patriotic stuff. We were disappointed to find out that all that type of activity occurs in the North in Hanoi. In the South they prefer to eat out, visit family or go to the Independence Day Sales! Never seen so many people outside the Co-Op Supermarket before. Well such is life.

Instead, we went on the Saigon River Boat, a Buffet lunch and a cruise along some of the more palatable reaches of the Saigon River. We were having lunch after all. To our surprise, we were the only foreigners on the boat. I was a nicely overcast day with a light Typhonic wind to keep the temperature down. There was plenty of food on the boat, but nobody knew that judging by the food frenzy that occurred when they announced the food was on. Being 6 foot tall in a country where most people are 4 foot tall has its advantages, you can lean over the first 3 rows of people without disturbing anyone, as I had to. The main disadvantage is that their elbows are at the most unfortunate height, well for me anyway. There was Karaoke and live performers to keep us entertained and all the staff were dressed in their finest Commodore’s uniforms. It was a great afternoon and at $10 each, was well worth it. Two adventurous girls sat at our table to practice their English, one was an English teacher who teaches children. They were great company and translated a lot of things for us.

All the best for now, until next time.
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Saigon Vietnam, Week 8

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

Last Sunday we attended a Vietnamese wedding, many of you would have received her postcard, but for those that didn’t, I’ll give a quick summery. A Vietnamese wedding lasts for about 2 hours but they seem to pack in a lot in that time. There is a song and dance act, Champagne pouring, Cake cutting and a 5 course lunch. Then suddenly everybody jumps up, and flees like the place is on fire. It's all over. Great Experience.

This week has been busy and the weekend quiet fortunately. Nothing of great note to report. We do have a few motorbike related tales. We were at the Co-Op supermarket yesterday and parked in the Motorbike parking area and left out helmets on the bike as usual. They were nice new ones. We got back to the bike after the rain stopped to find them missing. We mentioned this to a security guard who promptly woke up all the other security guards and they mounted a full search of the premises. They took me into the guards gave me drinks of Iced Tea and all wanted to practice their English and tell me about their cousin who lives in Melbourne. Then the General arrived or it could have been the superintendent of security, It’s hard to tell with all those epaulettes and other shinny gold adornments on their uniforms. His English was very good and he apologised profusely for the laps of security that led to this terrible crime. He went out and returned with two replacement helmets in a slightly used condition. They were very good to us and said we could park in front of the office next time.

Today we encountered another bike related problem, a flat tyre. In my 4 years as a Postman in Australia I never had a flat tyre, I ran out of fuel a few times, but never a flat tyre. Anyway, I had to push the bike all the way across the road to find a tyre repair guy, they are really that hard to find. He used his rustiest scissors to dig the nail out of the tyre and then on closer examination he had to replace the tube. So he sent his mate off for the new tube and he had to take the wheel off. When it came time for the bill, I prepared myself thinking $20, $30 being foreigners. 60,000 VND about $4 and it took about 5 minutes. If you’re looking for pit crew?

All the best for now, until next time.

Ric & Louise

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Saigon, Vietnam Week 7

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

We have had another pleasant weekend, starting with a spontaneous lunch on Friday afternoon. We went to a local restaurant with a group of students. After lunch we were invited back to Mr Home’s (one of the students) Bakery and Coffee shop where his family makes a big range of French style pastries and cakes. We sampled nearly all of them... just to be polite you understand and had to leave with bags of them!

Saturday we set off on Twee’s bike again to do our shopping, have coffee and get lunch in District 1. We are getting around like locals now and can find our way around reasonably well. On the journey home I felt the telltale drop in air pressure, an increase in the wind and a sweet smell in the air. Then, 75 motorbikes pulled off the road up under awnings simultaneously as the sky fell in. It rained solid for about 5 minutes then stopped and we were able to continue our trip with the other 75 bikes. A lot of locals only stop to don their raincoats, some of which are especially designed to take two people and has a see through panel that goes over the headlight.

The traffic itself is a bit daunting at first, but I have figured it out. The rules are simple, never look back, you are only responsible for what goes on in front of you. When going through big intersections, stick to the middle of the pack or try to cross in the shadow of a car or larger vehicle. Being able to ride slowly, and go up and down gutters with extra weight on the bike is probably the only thing I learnt during my time with Australia Post as a Postie, it’s funny, but I never thought it would come in handy but it’s an essential skill here. I often think that Louise & I are too large for these little bikes, but then I look around and see that we are probably only the same weight as a typical Vietnamese family of four and they seem to manage OK.

We were invited to another Students house for a traditional Sunday Lunch today. Vun and her family live in a suburb outside Saigon, a bit like going to Parramatta from Sydney. It was another interesting interlude. Getting there as half the fun, But I don’t thing Louise enjoys it as much as I do. Vun lives with her family of 5 and has relatives stay on the weekends and big lunches on Sundays. We were treated to a 5 course feast, that nobody could finish. Vun is a Chef so the food was spectacular Vietnamese fare, we finished with Chocolate and Orange crepes and fruit of course. We are having leftover crepes for dinner as you can’t leave someone’s house here without taking something with you. So with Crepes and French pastries, It’s going to be hard to lose weight here if this keeps up.

We are going to a Vietnamese Wedding next week, so will let you know all about it. All the best until next time.

Ric & Louise

Saturday, 1 August 2009

... and speaking of Vietnamese haircuts. (Week 6 Saigon)

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

As many of you will know, I appreciate a good mullet haircut, having grown up in the 80’s. And it was by chance that riding down Nung Van Dao, our street, that we passed what could only be a hairdressers Studio. Standing outside was a guy with a perfect mullet (Bill Rea Cyrus style), another with a great muppet heavy metal cut and another two who could be dead ringers for the Pet Shop Boys from the hairline up! We have been looking for somewhere to get our hair cut and I could see that these 17 somethings had all really done their homework when it came to cutting hair, I mean they weren’t even born in the 80’s.

Getting your hair cut in a foreign country while your travelling is always a bit risky, but as no one knows you, it usually doesn’t matter, you wear a hat for the first few days when you get your photo taken. We have had our hair cut in Malaysia, Thailand, Turkey and India and not one of them spoke any English. Louise is a bit smarter on this issue, she takes a picture to show them. On the other hand, I am really good at charades. It’s amazing how much information you can impart with the scissor signal applied to various parts of your head, they all understand and in general I’ve had no problems.

Styles vary from country to country as well, the most creative barbers I have found are in Turkey. From a traditional cut throat shave to hair removal using rubberbands and naked flame, they really do a great job and finish off with a talcum powder frenzy and a shoulder rub as well. In Thailand, cutting hair is mainly a woman’s job, but in Turkey and India, It’s defiantly Men who cut Men’s hair. In Vietnam we have walked passed a lot of hair dressers and there is a lot of ear work going on, I mean they are probing around in peoples ears with long acupuncture needles, I don’t need that!

However as respectable teachers with standards to keep, we have to be a bit choosy, the Pet Shop Boys it was. It must be a generational thing, In my Father’s day everybody combed their hair forward, In my day we all combed our hair back or up or out or something? Anyway I was in the chair and the young fella kept coming my hair forward straight down my forehead. Not quite the mulletesque cut I was hoping for. In any case Louise says it was a good cut, and she’s the one who has to look at me. They finished me off with the mandatory product in the hair. and asked me if I was happy about the cut with the txt function on their mobile phone. I don’t know, what is the young generation coming to?

PS: See my Youtube video, Shave and a Haircut Istanbul

All the best for now
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Week 5 Saigon

Dear Ethel, Family and friends

Another weekend passes as we explore and find new places to visit. We have been very fortunate with the weather this weekend. It’s raining this evening but we have had two great days. During the week however we have had some pretty heavy rain including a spectacular storm on Thursday. I had a student due before the storm, but when it hit and turned our street into a raging rapid in about 15 minutes, I didn’t expect to see her at all, but sure enough she turned up a bit late. Amazingly resilient people.

In our search for a pool to swim in we found a green spot on the map and decided to have a look. We borrowed a motorbike for the weekend again and went exploring. We discovered the fabulous Binh Quoi tourist village, a slice of paradise in the hustle and bustle of Saigon. The grounds of this future resort are manicured with several types of grass, like golf links. Designed around a lake adjoining the Saigon river, the most has been made of the water features available and includes dining areas in pergolas over the water. The complex has been designed to take a dozen or so functions at the same time. Numerous private BBQ pergolas are also available. Cobbled paths meander through the site over small bridges and around Lilly ponds with sculptures and other vignettes of beauty at every turn. Sorry to sound like a commercial here but Ho Chi Minh City is a big busy dusty place and finding a gem like this so close to home is simply news worthy. Most importantly it has a fantastic pool. It’s about 40,000 Dong each (A$2.70) to use. It is free to wander about but the food is a bit more expensive than our local restaurants but worth it.

Louise went to a Spa or beauty salon on Saturday. One of the students at the school is the manager. Louise thought it was fabulous, although the heavily discounted price we were given was still too much to do it regularly. We are enjoying travelling around on the bike, and can even find our way around. I’ve found the trick with riding here is that you don’t worry about what’s going on behind you, just concentrate on looking forward and sideways at the same time. We do our shopping on the bike and have worked out the bike parking protocols.

The school is doing well and expecting more students. Some of our students have tests in two week time so we are doing extra work with them and started an English talk club where we don’t have formal classes but discussions and watching some Australian TV and talking about hot topics.

Everything is going well for us, so all the best for now
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Week 4 Saigon

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

Week four now, and our life has settled into a routine. This is now our second week at the school. The first week was a ground tester and the second week students have paid up in advance, which shows they are serious and dedicated. We have 3 more students starting next week as well. Some of the students have an IELTS test in a month, while others have their tests in 3 months. Most have a letter of offer from an employer in Australia and are just waiting on their IELTS tests.

The School itself is looking more like a school every day and we are working out of 2 classrooms now. We have a fulltime receptionist named Snow (as she has such black hair) and a full time cleaning lady has also started as well to keep the place neat and tidy. Plants arrived on Friday to make the place look a little more appealing. We still need to do a few thing, like finish the painting, hang posters on the walls, but will have to wait for the time being.

The District the school is in is about 7km from the center of the city. It’s defiantly not a tourist area and we are a constant fascination to the locals as we walk up and down the streets. We have eaten at a few street stalls, feeling they are safe enough to eat at and are so cheap. 2 Chicken, fried rice, with vegetables, a beer and a lemonade, $3. Another favorite with inside dining is the Australian Beefsteak Restaurant, serves Beef steaks, a sausage, egg and chips and with drinks costs, $8.

We borrowed a motorbike this weekend from Twee, one of the girls from Mingh’s office, who has been assigned to help us find and do things. We spent Saturday and Sunday, doing a bit of exploring cautiously. I have driven in Europe on the right hand side of the road before, and driven in Penang in chaotic Asian driving conditions. Riding a motorbike on the right through Saigon is an experience I’ll not soon forget. You might not think so when you see it, but there is an order to the chaos. I guess it will become second nature before long. All the best for now.

Ric & Louise

Google Map Link for the school

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Week 3 Saigon

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

Posted by Louise

Still here … and so far so good. We have been teaching for a week and have about 6 to 8 candidates/student each. Ric is teaching in the afternoon and I teach in the mornings 4 hours each. The candidates are all tradespeople who have found positions in regional Australia and are sitting their IELTS test to get their working visas. They think its very unfair of the Oz Gov to put the IELTS up to 5.0 not like the previous Gov who only made them have 4.5.

The school is starting to shape up … we’ve gone from having everything on the front desk ie: all computers and printers, the scanner, all books and stationery … to getting distributed throughout the school. A computer in the staff room and stuff in the class rooms. I don’t know what they thought we were going to do in the staff room without any computer or books.

Our living quarters are adequate and clean. We have a very big bedroom and a small sitting room with a kitchen and bathroom over the hall … the school is quite a big building and after the students leave at 5.30 we have the place to ourselves until the next morning when the receptionist arrives at 7.45 and the students at 8. From our room there are 5 locked doors between us and the street so it is quiet and very safe.

Our receptionist …. Snow (who has the blackest hair … as in calling redheads - Blue) … went down to a local restaurant and got a copy of there menu and translated it into English. It’s an Australian beef steak restaurant … she thought we like beef because I have a cow on my handbag!!!! Perfectly logical. For two steaks (minute size) with chips and salad and drinks it costs us about $8 Aus … things a very cheap. We went into Saigon Q1 yesterday (about 15 min by bike) to do some shopping and decided it was expensive in town and rushed back to the burbs.

We seem to be able to find most things we need … we play charades a lot … and many of the women my age and a little older speak basic English with an American accent. Some of the children just stand and watch you for about 15 minutes and then suddenly say “Hello … how are you” and when your reply with “fine thank you … how are you” they say “I’m well” and then skip away very pleased with themselves. Having used there English lessons.

So lots of love and positive thoughts to you all.

All the best for now.

Louise & Ric

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Saigon Week 2

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

Well here we are two weeks after arriving in Vietnam and still living in the hotel. Things happen slower here than at home. When we had a look at the school on the Thursday after we arrived, nothing had been done to the place since Kim had departed. Our Vietnamese host here, Minh assured us that all would be done by Wednesday 1st July for the ceremonial opening. I must say that we were very sceptical. In Australia we would hire 3 or 4 men for a renovation project like this and it would take 2 weeks. In Vietnam they hire 20 people and it takes 2 days. Amazing, although the smaller details seem to take forever. Ingrid, one of the Directors from Sea in Australia arrived on Monday to help hurry the process along.

We did indeed have our ceremonial opening on Wednesday as Minh had promised. We had perhaps 20 students attend as well to meet and greet with the teachers and staff. Ingrid, Louise & I were presented with bouquets of flowers and welcomed to the school. Afterwards we all attended a buffet lunch provided by Minh and his staff.

Since then the school has been taking enrolments and getting the office in shape. We have also been doing some heavy duty shopping, buying everything we need to set up our new living quarters upstairs from the school. Our living area comprises a large bedroom area 4 x 4 metres and a balcony lounge/dining area about 2.5 x 4 metres. Across the hall we have a kitchen and bathroom. It will be quite an adequate living area once it is finished. It still has no hot water or a kitchen and the whole site needs to be thoroughly cleaned before we move in, or before school starts tomorrow.

We have walked almost every inch of the city by now and have eaten in a lot of the restaurants and cafes. We went to the Reunification Palace, the Art Gallery, Cultural Museum and of course the dozens of markets around town. So we are really keen to start work now and look forward to the day to day challenges that teaching brings. All the best for now.
Ric & Louise

PS we have phone numbers, so email us and we'll send them.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Saigon, Vietnam

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

We arrived in Saigon last night at about 10pm local time. It was a long day of travelling having started at 5AM. Both flights were uneventful and no problems with baggage weight, which has been our biggest worry. We don’t officially start work until Thursday, but wanted to get here to acclimatise before we start and also because we found some cheap tickets.

We were last in Saigon about 6 years ago and it’s a nice surprise to find it so clean. It is so different to India and the other Asian countries we have stayed in as well. It’s 34 degrees out so finding book shops, Cafes and Restaurants with air conditioning is a must. At lest it is cloudy so we can avoid the direct sun. We have been out and about this morning looking for textbooks for our classes. We sampled the excellent coffee and pastry on offer and had lunch at a nice restaurant serving traditional Vietnamese food, mmm.

Kim the founding director of Sea English Academy was here in Saigon last week arranging the new school, and she told us the school and our accommodation was being painted and organised, we hope to see the school later in the week. We will be living in a flat above the school about 5 km from the centre of the city. We will have address, phone and mobile numbers soon, so we’ll post them as soon as we have them to hand. So all the best for now.
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Waiting with our suitcases half closed

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

Plans are well advanced now for our trip to Vietnam, we are patiently waiting for our passports with visas to come back from the Vietnamese Consulate in Canberra. We have spent the last two week at the Sea English office in Maroochydore in preparation for our new jobs. Initially we will be running IELTS (International English Language Testing Scheme) classes for skilled immigrants to Australia, so we have been sitting in on some classes in Maroochydore. We are still waiting on information on the address and contact details of where we will be staying but it will be in District 1, right in the middle of Saigon. We will have land lines and mobiles when we arrive, so we will be contactable more readily than the last year and we should have a permanent internet connection so our Skype connection will be on.

We sold our beloved campervan today and got a bit teary as she drove off, but to a good home so all turned out well there. Things seem to be falling into place now and we are now waiting with our suitcases half closed for the green light which might happen tomorrow. We’ll keep you posted.

All the best for now
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Bathurst Australia May 2009

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,
It has been 6 weeks or so since I last wrote. We have been staying with Louise’s Mother while Louise’s Sister has been away on a holiday. Bathurst is very nice this time of year, with the colourful trees losing their leaves. It’s still not too cold, but cool all the same. While we have been here we have had something to do every week, so we have kept busy.

We were here for Easter and I went to the Bathurst Car races. There were classes of older cars from 1930’s onwards racing. We also went to Sofala and Hill End, gold mining areas to stay the weekend. The following Saturday was the Rally of Lithgow. I went and took some video. Over the Anzac Weekend we went to Lithgow for Ironfest, a medieval festival with Jousting sword fighting and battle re-enactments. We volunteered to help set up and arrived on Thursday to help with making and putting up flags. We stayed in the campervan and it was very cold. The next weekend we went to Dubbo and visited the fantastic zoo there. This week end we have been down to Newnes Valley this side of the Blue Mountains. It’s very beautiful there and we stayed at Louise’s Uncle and Aunts.

As I said we have enjoyed our time in Bathurst and it’s been a great chance to relax after our nonstop travelling. However, we are about to set off again. We are heading back to Queensland this week to prepare for our trip to Vietnam. We have been offered jobs in Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City in the south of Vietnam for a 12 month posting. We will be working for Sea English Academy and running the new Saigon based Sea English campus. We did our Tesol courses last year in Penang, Malaysia and have been teaching in India earlier this year. We travelled to Vietnam about 5 years ago, it was only a 2 week trip but we really enjoyed it. So we are really excited about our new positions and look forward to the challenges ahead. We will keep you posted.
All the best for now
Ric & Louise

Monday, 23 March 2009

Canberra, Australia

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,

This week after leaving Corrimal we headed to Kiama, an equally nice spot where we stayed for two days. Louise has a cousin there who we visited for dinner one night. The camp ground was on a headland one bay from the town centre and an excellent walk.

After Kiama we stayed in Batemans Bay overnight before heading inland to Canberra. The drive to Canberra is through beautiful National Park and up through the Great Dividing Range. It’s a gentle slope at first, building up to a 5km very steep ridge. The constant road works didn’t help at all and it was all a bit much for our old girl (the bus) and she over heated at the pass. We had to stop for a couple of hours to allow the engine to cool down but seemingly nothing damaged so were able to proceed to Canberra without any problems.

We stayed in Canberra for the weekend with Louise’s Brother Ian and wife Sally, Louise’s Mum, her Brother and his wife came from Bathurst as well so it was a big family get together as Ian and Sal’s kids all live in Canberra as well. The occasion was the Canberra Fireworks display over the lake in front of parliament house. It was a truly spectacular display.

It’s always fun visiting the Canberra Rellies as there are usually games of darts, pool, croquet, cards, not that anyone is competitive. We also did the rounds of flea markets, shopping centres and took in a car show on the grounds of Old Parliament house, so it was a fun weekend.

This week we will be heading towards Bathurst arriving on Friday.

So all the best till next time

Ric & Louise

Monday, 16 March 2009

Corrimal, NSW Australia

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,
It’s been a big week catching up with family and friends but we started the week in Forster then on to Nelson Bay, Newcastle, Toowoon Bay on the Central Coast, an old favourite of ours, then on to Sydney for the weekend.

We caught up with Louise’s nephew Arron for a few days in New castle. Aaron and his partner Tegan and son Trent own and run a pet shop in Mayfield and seem to do a thriving business but work hard for it, spending 10 hour days at the shop. We also caught up with long time friends Mary Anne and Wendy as well. It’s always great catching up with folks.

We arrived in Sydney on Saturday afternoon and decided to stay at Narrabeen. Nice enough Caravan Park but very expensive at $45 a night for a powered site. There was a big storm that night so we spent most of our time in the van. Sunday we went into town and found parking outside the art gallery, so went in to see the Archibald Exhibition. After a wander around the Botanical Gardens we visited Wendy and ended up staying at the Ramsgate Caravan Park. It’s a bit weird, rundown and way overpriced at $43 a night. Today we have headed south through the Royal National Park and now staying at Corrimal.
So all the best till next time
Ric & Louise

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Forster, Australia

Dear Ethel, Family and friends,
Just a quick email to report that nothing has happened in the last week... except Louise’s Birthday and another few hundred kilometres of scenic coastline. However we stayed 3 nights in Iluka followed by Wooli, Sawtell, Nambucca Heads, South West Rocks and Port Macquarie and today we are at Forster. We are on a nice site here overlooking Cape Hawke Harbour with the bridge and fish markets opposite. The boat ramp is within sight of here with 20 or 30 Pelicans permanently parked on the grass waiting for the fisherman to return. Some of them look way too fat to fly.

We are quite settled into our van now and don’t mind the routine of packing and making the bed everyday. We have an annex for the side of the van and a second to move around depending on where the sun is. The weather is cooling down fast now with the evenings cool enough for blankets. We are enjoying the cooler temperatures as we have been chasing the heat for the last 12 months or so.

We have changed our plans slightly and are now heading towards Canberra for fireworks night on 21 March, so we now have 2 weeks to get there and will pass through Newcastle to Sydney and down to Batesman’s bay before turning in towards Canberra.

So all the best till next timeRic & Louise