Hong Kong

The Emperor’s New Clothes and A Graceful Goddess Story

Hue, Vietnam. Sunday 30th December.

We can’t decide if we have been to The Ancient Citadel, or The Imperial Purple City. I will check in guide book and report back. But we are both agreed that it’s nice to get out of the pouring rain and back into our warm and cosy room. I am sure Hue is beautiful in the sunshine, but today if I am totally honest, my day out in Hue, was a bit of a damp squib. It was one of those trips where you feel you should, because it’s there. But I think I spent a bit too much time looking at stuff in the gift shop (and the souvenirs are extraordinarily beautiful, hand painted kites, handmade incense, silks, lacquer pots, wooden bits and pieces). And too much of the time wishing I knew exactly who or what it was I was looking at, and the rest wishing I had read up more before I came out, or had paid to join a tour group.

It also rained. Continuously. And I was getting so drenched, despite wearing a raincoat and even though I know it’s a bad thing to do, I succumbed to buying a plastic poncho. And I fell over. (Karma?) But I did take some interesting photographs, and wondered how the Emperor and the Emperors before and after him managed to stay dry in the rainy season. Their clothing was exquisite, all those colourful silks, how did they keep them from getting soggy? Looking around at our modem day clothing, I do not think the Emperor would have been very impressed with how we have replaced his attire. Nor would David Attenborough be impressed by the sea of plastic raincoats.

But of course, silly me, there is a perfect way to stay dry. The traditional Non La, or Coolie Hat. A common sight in the Vietnamese countryside and the cities.

The story goes that once upon a time, during a torrential downpour of rain that lasted weeks, flooding lands and homes and causing unfavorable disturbances to the rural life, a graceful goddess descended from the sky. She was wearing on her head a giant hat made of four large leaves stitched together by bamboo sticks. This hat was so large that it guarded the people against all the rain, and she was able to dispel the clouds and rain, allowing the people to return back to a normal life.

Perhaps tomorrow I can try again as a Graceful Goddess.

Hong Kong

Saxurday morning in Dong Hai

Good morning. Greetings from rainy rainy Dong Hai Vietnam. We came South, leaving behind December sunshine, thinking it would get more sunny the further South we travelled. We were wrong. Northern Vietnam has four seasons, and Southern two. Rainy and Dry. I think we might have missed the Dry.

But much to the bemusement of the staff, and in rainy season, there’s a lot of them with a lot of time on their hands, to stand around and gaze and smile, we started today with a swim. In the gorgeous and just warm enough infinity pool that brushes the Chinese ocean. All to ourselves. Feeling like you’re in the sea when you’re not. I imagine in the dry season everything is hotter, busier, more crowded. I am happy to have made the mistake. Happy that my charity shop raincoat has finally come into its own.

A private pool for Martin’s early morning dip

I am enjoying the hotel buffet breakfast. I love buffet breakfast in Asian Hotels. Absolutely everything you could possibly wish for. Look!

Martin opts for the eggs cooked to order, and I load up my plate with little bits of everything, that’s not meat. I’m remembering breakfast bliss outs in Portugal with the fabulous Ann Hartley, Pam Hayes and Anna Robinson. But ladies, you would not be impressed with this :

An empty fizz bucket. Ann, you need to sort them out!

I’ve been treating myself to lots of massages here in Vietnam. It’s part of their way of life out here, foot massages, body massage, manicure and pedicure. At prices that seem ridiculously cheap.

I had a Thai massage the other night. My fourth here in Vietnam. No pre questions. No forms or ‘are you suffering from anything?’. Just hop on and off we go. Interesting trying to get them to tread lightly on my almost recovered shoulder.

Last night the girl was a little rough. Very young. Very strong. In a little red Chinese pyjama suit, the shortest of shorts. The longest hair dangling down like a black curtain. Like a James Bond girl and me the baddie. The whole thing hilarious as she wants to do lots of work on my knees for some reason, but I’m really ticklish and just keep getting hysterics. So she gets on the couch with me, to sort of hold me down. Various restraining and limb holding poses. Crack crack. Thump thump. Pull pull. Hit hit. When she wants me to turn over she shouts HEY YOU! Mmmmm. I feel like a new black and blue woman. But today all feels wonderful. Well weird experience.

For my birthday Martin treated me to a 60 minute massage at The Peninsula. The two experiences could not be any more different. Note to self to write a separate article one day – Compare and contrast your massage experience at The Pen Hong Kong and Sunshine Resort, Dong Hai, Vietnam. Give examples to support, where necessary. Will be fun.

So that’s covered food and swimming and massage. All things I love everywhere in the world. The other thing I love is of course to try and play the saxophone. I rented one in HK, but could not bring it to Vietnam. But look, here in the reception area. Not exactly a blow up Father Christmas, but a dancing, sax playing one.

Happy Saxurday from me and Father Christmas.

Hong Kong

Wookey Hole

Mr P, also known as Wookiee, arranged a tour today, to a couple of caves. In fact the only reason we are here in this part of Vietnam is to visit the Caves. I didn’t get at all excited when he told me of this plan. The sleeper train, the day out. I sort of glanced up and said “Whatever”, well not quite, but didn’t show as much enthusiasm as I might, if I’d known I was going to another world.

When my children were little we went to Wookey Hole in Cheddar Gorge. Whoopee NOT.

Sorry you Cheddar fans, but I can barely remember it. But I will never forget today. I would happily have pitched my tent and stayed a day or so, felt envious of the hard core cavers, of whom there are only 200 per annum, who spend a week in the largest cave in Asia, travelling the full 14km, not the 1km I did today.

Drop by drop of calcified water (don’t quote me on the science) and over millions of years you get this! And a Vietnamese Farmer saw a hole in the forest that led to this. Awesome. And I don’t use the word lightly.

My iPhone pictures do not do the cave justice. Nor the second cave we sailed into by Sampan. I’ll try and find a YouTube link to post at the end. It would be wrong of me to give you the impression that this was another Wookey Hole. Far from it.

Wookiee, you did good. Thank goodness for coupled up tourism. Never in a million years would I have seen this. This that has taken nature million of years to ‘grow’. Should be the 8th wonder of the world. Next time Mr P is organising a day out, I may pay a little more attention.

Hong Kong

Five o’clock in the morning and I ain’t home

A bleary top bunk sleeper train wave

Are we there yet? Vietnam. Night of 26.12.18 On night train heading South. Trying hard not to disturb my fellow travellers in their enviable easy access lower bunks. I’m sure we are meant to have one lower one but not prepared to fight it out. So after clambering up – no ladder, i am perched on my very high, how will I ever get down?, top bunk.

I’ve got fully charged up technology because I checked into a £5 a bed hostel by the train station to take a shower and charge up my modem and phone. Don’t need bed but good backstop if train cancelled/delayed. I’m in charge of alarm setting and google maps as Mr P has no charge to phone. But am confused and alarmed as to why we seem to have gone past our destination until M takes phone and wiggles it and points out I have it all upside down. But it is 5am so I’m going to be kind to myself and not tell myself I am a complete *******. Have had the best night’s sleep ever ironically.

Much to bemusement of my backpacker encounterees – they in cut offs and skimpy tops if female, I’ve been carrying, and sometimes wearing for ease my charity shop Burberry trench look alike. They don’t know I’ve come from sometimes rainy and cold HK and have stuff to carry around that has to do for three months and a variety of climates. They just wonder why a strange Asian woman is wearing a Burberry lookalike raincoat in baking heat. But sometimes wearing it is the only way , when you have to keep moving piles of stuff between all the different transport links. And there have been so many in our Hanoi to Halong Bay to Cat Ba to here journey. But when we arrive at our destination it’s pissing down with rain. Yay, for once in my life I’m appropriately attired.

But the coat came into its own last night. Coupled with my silk sleeping bag liner that comes with me everywhere it kept me cosy in this very cool air conditioned cabin.

During my 2 hour quick hostel check in, (M went off to get beer and chat to fellow travellers, regretted the beer when stuck on top bunk in middle of night, but that’s another very funny, possibly non bloggable story) I sat in a low hammock in the family’s kitchen and remembered seeing a very similar scene of family food prep in Mongolia. And remembered same scenario in my own kitchen when my children were small. Big brother skate boards in. The little girl and brother given food prep tasks by Mum. Fight breaks out. Small girl wails Muuuummmmyy, exactly like my daughter Lucy used to. Boy gets a telling off. I chat to the Mum briefly. She’s cooking a dish for some of the backpackers – it’s a restaurant as well as hostel. She tells me how tired she is. All the same worries and concerns we have/had. Money, (the family have recently set up the hostel, it’s good and I think it will succeed, even at a fiver a night, Vietnam accommodation so cheap compared with Hong Kong). Family worries. Are the kids normal? All the sibling rivalry, do all kids fight like this? I try to reassure her – same the world over I say. She gives the kids pre dinner ice creams to stop the fighting. Same the world over indeed.

Hong Kong

Getting about a bit

Vietnam is long and thin. Longer and thinner than I thought. And it takes a long time to get halfway down. This is mostly what today is about, as well as debates on line with other Hong Kong adoptees about the accuracy of the Call The Midwife 2018 Christmas special whose storyline feature HK adoptees being brought to the UK in the early 60s as part of the United Nations International Year of the Refugee. I haven’t seen it yet though, so not sure my contributions are worth it

I’m on a very bumpy coach, balancing my mobile phone on my left knee to type this blog. Bluetooth keyboard on right knee. Hardest thing ever, says Mr P who gets sick just reading whilst in a moving vehicle of any sort. Today we’ve already been on a car ferry. A bus, a pick up truck. Next a sleeper train. All good for Mr P’s work, as a transport designer. Which I think is the hardest thing ever, judging by the Christmas card he sent out from Transport Design International, his company, this year. They are designing the train of the future. Now that’s what I call hard!

So in the spirit of coupled up traveling, here’s a Christmas Greeting from Martin, just sneaking into my blog.


Hong Kong

All I want for Christmas is

Martin went off for a walk, taking the room key with him. So it was off to the ladies loos near reception for yours truly.

I had quite forgotten how delightful luxury loos can be. The Asians have toilet design nailed. And so now, top of my Christmas list for next year is one of these, any one will do. Some play music. One has a foot warmer.

The Numi Toilet’s design is modern and compact, but that does not hinder its functionality. It also provides features accommodating for the user’s comfortability, including motion-activated cover and seat, advanced bidet functionality, integrated air dryer, deodorizer, heated seat, foot warmer, illuminated panels and music. The controls for the Numi are touch screen and include a magnetic docking station, user presets, Numi flushing Technology and auxiliary controls

And I promise Martin should you buy one for me, never ever to do this on it.

Hong Kong

Guest blogger – Maya Angelou

When I worked in schools, inevitably the question “What do you wish for at Christmas time?”, would come up. And without fail, at least one, or two little angels would reply, quick as a flash, no hesitation, “world peace”.

Blogging from a country that in my own lifetime was torn apart by war, and after a peaceful day with fellow holiday makers from America and Germany and a Vietnamese host, I realise that this is what I too most wish for, especially for my children and my children’s children.

I always believe, that when we start on something new, a new job, a new course, join a club…that we’re often there for other reasons, that we may come to realise much later. Maybe to meet somebody we need to meet, learn something that will change our lives forever.

When I moved to St Ives, I as lucky to get a job in the beautiful Alexandra Dickens Gallery. And to form a deep and lasting friendship with Alex herself, who shares a love of writing and literature. One day Alex left me a book of Maya Angelou’s poems (thank you dearest Alex) and in it, this one, that I hope one day to be able to recite off by heart. But until that day, here it is for you. To wish you a wonderful Christmas, wherever you are in the world. May this and all your days be filled with love and joy and peace.

Maya Angelou reads A Brave and Startling Truth


We, this people, on a small and lonely planet

Traveling through casual space

Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns

To a destination where all signs tell us

It is possible and imperative that we learn

A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it

To the day of peacemaking

When we release our fingers

From fists of hostility

And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it

When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate

And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean

When battlefields and coliseum

No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters

Up with the bruised and bloody grass

To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches

The screaming racket in the temples have ceased

When the pennants are waving gaily

When the banners of the world tremble

Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it

When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders

And children dress their dolls in flags of truce

When land mines of death have been removed

And the aged can walk into evenings of peace

When religious ritual is not perfumed

By the incense of burning flesh

And childhood dreams are not kicked awake

By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it

Then we will confess that not the Pyramids

With their stones set in mysterious perfection

Nor the Gardens of Babylon

Hanging as eternal beauty

In our collective memory

Not the Grand Canyon

Kindled into delicious color

By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe

Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji

Stretching to the Rising Sun

Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,

Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores

These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it

We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe

Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger

Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace

We, this people on this mote of matter

In whose mouths abide cankerous words

Which challenge our very existence

Yet out of those same mouths

Come songs of such exquisite sweetness

That the heart falters in its labor

And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet

Whose hands can strike with such abandon

That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living

Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness

That the haughty neck is happy to bow

And the proud back is glad to bend

Out of such chaos, of such contradiction

We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it

We, this people, on this wayward, floating body

Created on this earth, of this earth

Have the power to fashion for this earth

A climate where every man and every woman

Can live freely without sanctimonious piety

Without crippling fear

When we come to it

We must confess that we are the possible

We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world

That is when, and only when

We come to it.

Hong Kong

I want to have my cake and eat it

There is no cake. It’s official, the Vietnamese do not do dessert. Well they sort of do. At the end of a meal a beaming happy person pops up proudly bearing dessert. But it’s always fresh fruit. Pineapple, and fruit that’s like a cross between an apple and a pear, and water melon. The food here is mega healthy and usually I like it. Fish and vegetables and rice, and tofu and cabbage and prawns. And fish and vegetables and rice, and tofu and cabbage and prawns. And fish and vegetables, but NEVER, NEVER ANY CAKE.

This must be why the Vietnamese are all so small. I have not seen a fat Vietnamese person. And everyone looks well and happy on a diet that pretty much excludes wheat, refined sugar and dairy, decent wine and good beer. Generally I’d be OK with this but, but, it’s Christmas.

Today was a lot of paddling around in Halong Bay. I’m a happy splashy kind of kayaker, my stroke is erratic so I get wet and burn up a lot of energy on the water. The day has a sort of ski holiday feel to it, being part of a largeish group, doing lots of stuff. Paddling your own canoe, but generally following the same route. But that’s where the similarity ends. The very best thing about ski ing is in my opinion, is that after a day on the slopes, whether you’ve done a million head plants, or skied moguls and black runs like a pro’, there is always cake, and lots of it to commiserate or celebrate your skiing day. If you’re in a chalet usually it’s home made, thick heavy slices laden with sugar and dairy. Sacher torte, apple strudel, coffee and walnut cake, treacle tart. And the smell in the chalet is of wood burner, come freshly baked cake and spruce and mulled wine spices.

We’re sleeping on a boat tonight, and the smell is mainly of boat fumes. Though there are festive coloured lights and Michael Buble is singing Christmas songs, at my request. I’ve put on my red dress and gold scarf, because after all it is Christmas, and it’s also nice to get out of my soggy denim shorts. With my limited wardrobe, it’s either the red dress or my PJs. When I walk into the dining room I am overdressed, all my fellow kayakers just looking like drier versions of their kayaking selves.

Sitting like a tinsel fairy amongst my Mountain Warehouse clad buddies I have a sudden and unexpected craving for a full Christmas dinner, the complete works topped off with Cornish cheese board and mince pies, crackers, silly paper hats and terrible jokes.

And that once a year feeling of being absolutely stuffed, but enough room for a very small slice of cake.

But guess what’s on tonight’s menu. Fish and vegetables and rice, and tofu and cabbage and prawns. Can’t wait.

Fat chance of this
Hong Kong

Let sleeping dogs lie

Saturday 22nd December. Cat ba island. Off Vietnam. A cafe. Someplace. Just me 

We came on bicycles. 7 of us. The tour guide. Me and Martin. The family from Virginia. Peggy and Jim and Erin and Will (?).  We cycled with me lagging behind as usual. Little legs going round as fast as theirs but always behind. And having to get off to walk the bike up the hill. 

We came from the port on our bicycles to here.  A long time since I was on a bicycle. St Ives with hills and cobbles, and me (who prefers horizontal in water to vertical on land), and bicycles are not a combo I’ve yet figured out. Or even had any desire to. Which is a shame for Mr P whose family were bicycle makers. Although his family were also sweet shop owners and sweets don’t figure hugely these days either. (Though just in case you are thinking of buying me sweets, I can always be tempted with a good chocolate lime. The ones with really limey outsides and nice chocolate inside. Not pale sugary poor imitations. or give me Turkish delight. Oh yes that would be nice with my Vietnamese coffee. Ah, no, sadly I’m not in the right country for either. I’m in Vietnam with an American family and a French family eating beside me.  In A country that is literally a Phoenix arising from the ashes.  I wonder if the smiley Vietnamese restaurant owner is as forgiving as she looks. I heard that this village was made because the Americans were bombing the fishermen in the bay. (God knows why?!) The fishermen and their families fled in land. The smiley woman looks old enough to have been around when that happened.  Did she flee bombs as a child whilst I was feasting on chocolate limes and riding my bicycle.

This morning we made a very early start from Hanoi to Hai Phong.  All the reviews and my daughter Lucy’s account, say the Halong Bay cruising is a must, a highlight of any visit to Vietnam.  And whilst Mr P and I are both well past full moon raves, we decided we should. Took a ferry that should have been decommissioned years ago. A mini bus ride. A boat ride. Had a sumptuous lunch aboard the dark wooden boat and I sieved the chance for a post lunch swim from the boat. Sea was not the 23 degrees billed, so a bit of a shock when I hit the water after jumping off the boat. But refreshing and a lot warmer than swimming back home in the sea on the last Saturday before Christmas would be.  Cycling and trekking to follow swim . So much activity in one day.

The last Saturday before Christmas.  Normally I’d be doing something. Food or present related.  Or decorating a tree or munching on mince pies. But most definitely doing, tho’ unlikely cycling or trekking.

Anx then I see the sleeping dog.

I make an executive decision to leave everyone to it. To stop. Stay put. Just be.  Rare on the last Saturday …..

And so I’m here alone with my Vietnamese drip drip drip coffee. The French and Americans have long since departed. So has Mr P.

There’s just me and a few dogs. The sleeping one.  Taking a rest.  Time out. The others chasing their tails.  But let the sleeping dog lie.  No need to run with his/her tribe today.

I love the idea of just sitting here.  Having time to daydream. Look at all the detail around d me. Fascinating to see the prep area for this restaurant. The shapes and the patterns. Man made and natural. The bikes we came on all lined up facing same way except mine. 

I look at the map. I have no real idea where I am on Cat Ba island. I’m not hiking to the top of the mountain for a phenomenal view,  but from where I’m sat the view is just perfect. And the sense of peace and coming home to myself very divine.  The sun has just come out. There’s a simple hammock. And I’ve even found baby Jesus’s Mum and a couple of the three wise men.