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Live music in Ho Chi Minh City

I have always enjoyed music. And especially live music. I just love shredding guitars and pounding basses. Raw. All the shit we hear on the radio is sometimes just too overly produced, soft, and licked. And I can really appreciate a live concert when everything just feels right.

While staying in Ho Chi Minh, I was very lucky because my girlfriend took me out to 2 clubs with live music. Just what I like. I have been too many gigs already in the past while I was kind of active in the punk and hardcore scene. In my hometown, we usually would head to den drempel, Hof ter Loo or Trix. But these are gigs with an entrance fee. And in the loud metal/punk genre. And seriously, I can’t really come up with any place in Antwerp that is a cozy small music club with cover bands/artists. There will always almost be an obliged entrance fee. You might find “live music” it in a bar though, maybe in something like Irish pub Kelly’s.

Oh boy, what had I been missing! In Ho Chi Minh City, there are lots of opportunities to go enjoy an adorable night out with live music or any other form of entertainment basically. In the music clubs there,  you just buy a few drinks (marked up of course, but still reasonably priced) and that makes it very affordable in my opinion. The bartender and band get what they deserve, and you can enjoy live music. A win-win situation.

The first club that we went to is called Acoustic. Probably the best known venue there. Vietnam’s leading musicians flock to Acoustic for cameo cover versions. It was very lividly. The crowd was going crazy with many of the songs, singing along the lines. There was a good variety of songs, genres and singers.

Another great place is called Yoko. It was Tet, so the venue was packed just like in Acoustic. But I attended during Tet, so that might explain. Yoko’s venue is very cozy (small stage, comfy chairs and revolving art-works) and the crowd that gathers here is comparable to Acoustic’s: locals, holiday makers and expats. The music is more geared towards indie rock. The band performing that night was called Microwave (resident band apparently). They were covering songs that night that went from the likes of Lady Gaga to Abba to Guns’n Roses to end with Linkin Park. Great singer with an exquisite, highly pitched voice. And a very amusing band.

Below a Vietnamese song of theirs called Chỉ là giấc mơ (it’s only a dream).

Vung Tau (i)

One of our first trips in Vietnam was to Vung Tau. This is not so a touristic city, wouldn’t it be for the 32m-high statue of Jesus. You do find foreigners there for a different reason: the crude oil. Vung Tau as a petroleum extraction center is economically very important to Vietnam and situated near Ho Chi Minh city, in the south.

This post talks about my morning in Cloud Lake, Vung Tau.

A vessel took us from Saigon to Vung Tau. Before boarding I of course had to take a picture first with Ho Chi Minh‘s tallest skyscraper, the Bitexco Financial Tower.

Upon arriving, I already saw a lot of sea and vessels (not surprising of course).

The plan was to head to Cloud Lake. So we took the cable car (my first one in Vietnam). It was an enjoyable ride with some stunning views.

It is difficult to categorize Cloud Lake because it has a bit of everything but not much of anything. It is not a theme park because there are only a few rides. There is also something that resembles a zoo or a natural reserve. We started off with a breakfast. I went with an omelet sunny side up. And I tried the first ever fresh and delicious yoghurt mango juicy shake.

The rest of the morning we spent in Cloud Lake. Below is a beautiful statue of Ho Chi Minh himself.

On Cloud Lake, there was the first Buddha for me to see.

There were some special spiritual statues surrounding the pagoda too.

And I got my first chance on Cloud Lake to enter a Pagoda barefoot.

We also took a short rail ride and basically just enjoyed the stunning views and nature. It was very quiet and peaceful. That basically captures my morning in Vung Tau…

Karaoke on Lunar New Year

It was getting late. Lunar New Years’ day had almost ended. I hear some very loud Karaoke music coming from a house. We go there. I see two beautiful daughters energetically dancing and signing, a proud and caring mom and pop. The dad is filming the in-house karaoke event with my Canon 500D.  The guy has a very expensive looking karaoke installation, a bunch of songs and a TV screen of course. He starts talking with me. He asks me where I am from. I tell him I’m from Belgium. He says he is very pleased to meet me. And that he is a bit ashamed of his small house. He knows our houses are larger. There is no couch, but a wooden chair is also fine with me. I put him at ease.

This is the first time a foreigner visits the house, and I am the guest. He offers me a Tiger beer, which I of course do not reject. I tell him that I tried Saigon beer and the stronger 333 beer before. And that I don’t like the latter. But it turns out both are manufactured in the same factory. Saigon is for bottles, 333 for cans. I feel a bit embarrassed. He wonders how long I stay in Vietnam and how the food is and the people and everything. I explain him that so much is different and that I like the food. But people are the same everywhere. Many of whom I met already are good, honest and genuine but there are also very cunning, mean and corrupt people.   He seems to agree.

In the house I see the typical Buddhist inspired and Tet-decorated (incenses, coconut) altar and two pictures of his deceased parents. But there are more photos hanging, and I ask him about it. He explains he used to be a photographer before for weddings, baby showers and family pictures and so on. They look simple, but I like them. The perfect setting. Then his wife, as hospitable as him and who doesn’t speak English, asks me if I want some food. Noodles or so. The all-day eating event already made me full, so fruit will do, I reply. And I can’t help but notice his wife is some 5 inches larger than him. A fruit plate is served with fresh mangoes, mandarins and apples. We delve into the local foods of my country and he thinks there are a lot of grapes. But I confirm him that the vineyards are mostly in southern European countries France, Italy and Spain. And he knows about cherries too. And the conversation comes back to beers. Fruity beers.

Then it’s time for me to sing a karaoke song. Abba is still very big here, so I choose Happy New Year. I can’t sing really, and I don’t know the text. But I can read the subtitles, so that’s okay and we had a lot of fun. Some more beer, and I ask him some more personal stuff. His two daughters both go to school. One is four, still in kindergarten and very thin. The other one is eight years old, in elementary school and too fat. He says he is worried about that. Because he wouldn’t want to marry a girl that is too thin or too fat. It makes me laugh because he said it in all seriousness.

The man also talks about the Japanese classes he is taking. How he plans to work in Japan next year if he succeeds. I wish him all the best of luck. The conversation goes on for a bit longer.

Mum and dad are factory workers, and they seem to be doing a great job. I can’t help but notice how self-conscious, aware and good these people are. We talk about the loud karaoke music. The volume indeed is very high and I am sure surrounding neighbors hear it — so did we after all. Such a situation wouldn’t be appropriate in my country and out of discussion basically. Post 10PM, people might call up the police. He knows that. In Vietnam however, every neighbor really is a friend.

It is getting around 11h30 PM and time for the children to go to bed. I am getting a little bit emotional too and decide to call it a day too. What a wonderful and lovely family.

The Vietnam refugees

Yesterday I met a man who had a very intriguing story that I would like to share. He explained me how he escaped Vietnam. The story starts in 1975, the end of the Vietnam war when Saigon was captured. The north was getting more and more influence. People in the south now had to deal with a communist ideology. Just like many other southern Vietnamese people, he didn’t like it. He was afraid and lurking for freedom. So he decided to flee the country. But only three years after that, in 1978, he left Vietnam in a really small boat that had the length of a normal living room. The boat carried 16 people: 4 men, 4 women and 8 children and its destination was unknown. The stowaways were floating and surrendering on the wild Pacific Ocean for 17 consecutive nights. Until they stumbled across a Thai fishing vessel. If they didn’t follow this life-saving ship, they all would have been drowning to death. And eventually, hundred thousands of Vietnamese died like that in fact. So the group was then escorted to the Bangkok port area. They all hid in the small boat to wait the perfect moment to flee. When there were no roaring sounds anymore, they did it. And that’s how he reached the refugee camp. Thailand has a good spirit, and so after some time the United Nations came in between. What was left then was a form that needed to be filled in stating the reason of departure: no freedom — he also jokingly added that they wouldn’t give you amnesty if you didn’t like your countries’ food. And so he became an American and together with the other 17 refugees, he survived.

A story that touched me a lot. I can’t help but think how easy my life is. This man had to escape his country under devastating circumstances. He had almost no other choice, but made the right decision and it changed his life. Now we have opportunities to go abroad. But what if there is no way out, and you decide to burn yourself in flames? What does a man make a suicide bomber?

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Trick Eye Art

During my stint in Vietnam (still here btw), I visited a very interesting exhibition in Ho Chi Minh City. This exhibition consisted of tens of big-sized 3D paintings. Paintings that reveal another dimension in fact, as you can be part of the scenery too and bring it alive. You just need to be able to use some imagination and you can shape your own reality. Which allows for taking some stunning photos of course! Every picture tells a thousand words…

This exhibition is “obviously” all about optical illusions, Trompe l’Oeil and Trick of the eye style, hinting at the Vietnamese French history too in a way. Most paintings are of Korean origine, and I also spotted some European ones. I would definitely recommend this extravagant happening if you are in Saigon around now. If not, check it out later this year in Hanoi for example.

My Vietnamese Lunar New Year

Today it’s the Vietnamese old year and tomorrow the Lunar New Year, Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán starts. I had heard about this “lunar” New Year before, but was not really much aware about what it really involves. Dragons and Gods right and a different calendar or something? Like the Chinese thing…

Not so much and here’s why.

Lunar New Year is the time when the Vietnamese people give a lick of paint to their houses and decorate the house with a mandarin tree. Being together with a Vietnamese local, today I had the chance to participate in a traditional Vietnamese old/new year’s ceremony. This is basically the start of the Lunar New Year — the Black Dragon is 2012’s theme. Let me first set the record straight. It is not a religion thing. Every family does it. It is more about the Buddhist tradition.

Here’s how I experienced it.

On the table, there was a nice yellow flower. You don’t see much different colored flowers for celebrations by the way, like what we are used to in Europe. As for the food, there will be rice (obviously), a chicken, soup, pork liver, some pork sausages, salad and rather spicy Korean kim chi. And rice wine. Finally, Banh Chung. Banh Chung is some sort of cake comprised of pork and rice and layered with rice again. They cover it in some green leaves. Quite special. It’s different, but tasty enough.

Initially and before the actual food festivity can start, there will be three bowls of rice and three small cups of rice wine. This is to worship the Gods. Then the incense will be lighted. Only when the incense is fully burned, one can commence to eat. This was a bit striking to me.

Another ritual is that the people will keep papers. These papers will then be burnt. I was kind of surprised to see burn the beautiful colorful papers. Also, fake money (including mock dollars) will be burnt outside the house. By giving this to the Gods, they will take good care of the dead people.

I am kind of lucky to be here, close to a local that protects me as it isn’t always friendliness and kindness around here. There are also corrupt and mean people of course and you need to be constantly alert everywhere in the public.

But I am in good hands, with a good and warm family.

Anyways, I am pretty much excited for my last week here. It’s Tet! Couldn’t be a better time to come here too. It is the perfect weather. No rainy season, just sun all day. What else can one wish for…

And tonight there will be fireworks!

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In Kuala Lumpur

On my way to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam my flight was in transit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As a matter of fact, quite some flights to South-East Asia actually come through the Kuala Lumpur International airport (or Bangkok).  And as I had more than 10 hours to spend there, I thought of making optimal use of my precious time. Every minute counts then.

First and foremost, I feel a little bit ashamed to say this, but I had no clue where this wonderful city was located. I initially thought it was in Indonesia even (way too the east even)!

Never been to Asia before, and the first impression in Kuala Lumpur was a very good one. Afterwards Vietnam turned out to be differently altogether, but I will come back to this in a later post.

So here’s why I liked it instantly.

On my flight, I met a Dutch couple sitting next to me in the plane. The guy’s sister has a company there. I am not surprised because the Dutch you can meet almost anywhere on the planet where there’s a commerce opportunity. We had a nice talk, drank some sodas at 7AM in KLIA. They helped me get to the city center, and it turns out that the best way to go to the city center from KLIA, is to take the tram.

Kuala Lumpur ekspres is clean, spacious and has TV screens inside. One ticket costs some 35 RM.

On the way to the Kuala Lumpur city center, I noticed many palm trees, meadows and hills. That is very common of course for a beach city, but it was just awesome. Besides, during the ride I also came across a station called “cyberjaya”. I thought it was cool and I suspect it must be some technology park. I am especially interested in the offshore business anyway.

It was a beautiful day, and the first thing that I was confronted with was the heating sun. It was going to be a tough day for me ahead. Back in Amsterdam it was only 10 degrees and raining, so I had my winter jacket with me and had to drag it throughout the day. But no matter what, it wouldn’t spoil my good experience.

The best thing that I decided was to buy me a ticket for the hop-on hop-off bus. Every thirty minutes there’s a bus and I can recommend it to everyone.

But before I hopped on the bus, I already immediately got overwhelmed with the Hilton hotel:

The Hilton Hotel looks overwhelming when you leave the Kuala Lumpur central station

It was an exciting day and there were many attractions and it would take me too long to explain them all but there are a few that I want to share with you.

I don’t remember much from the bus on-board commentary, but what I do remember is that Kuala Lumpur is apparently only 180 years old (but then again, not so much younger than Belgium for instance). Apart from that, the newly built city is very diverse and colorful. And also, another charm is that you will find a lot people that speak English fluently. That is just amazing. I was even invited by a woman to talk over a coffee, but in the end I denied the invitation (I kind of regret this now as locals are the best way to get to know a new culture). Also prevalent in the streets are Muslim women with their hijabs on and bikes of course!

Asia equals bikes. The traffic in Kuala Lumpur seems to be organized though.

The city also invited some architects to construct some amazing artificial gardens.

Kuala Lumpur has some very beautiful gardens. This one is in front of the Twin towers. An American couple from Atlanta explained and showed me this.

Kuala Lumpur has two very tall buildings. The first one is the Petronas or Twin Towers, as seen on many holiday cards. The other one is the TV tower.

If you want to get up on the Petronas’ bridge, you need to queue up very early and as you can guess, I was too late.

The impressive and dramatic Twin Towers

Also famous for its very expensive and huge shopping malls. The below one is in the Petronas itself.

Shopping mall in Petronas. Expensive brands everywhere.

Kuala Lumpur may be a business city, but it gave me the impression of a very sophisticated, open-minded and advanced society. And yet again, it is very different from Europe.

The might KL TV tower

Jetlag or not, I had an amazing time but left the city after some 27 hours. But then, my jetlag was taking its toll and only a few years later I had to leave for my continued trip to Ho Chi Minh City!

Astonishing Kuala Lumpur view seen from the TV tower. You can see that its a green city too.

For Kuala Lumpur, there will not be so much to remember but friendliness, banks, skycrapers and Muslim Asians. I couldn’t dive into the traditional kitchen, I didn’t visit any mosks but it was definitly worth the 10+ hours there!

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