Monday, March 14, 2011

Hanoi and the life of the Goldfish

I can’t believe that goldfish can survive in there. I am sitting on the edge of one of the many “lakes” in Hanoi, amazed that any living organism can survive in those conditions, let alone gold fish. I mean, among the rubbish and cracked china and bowls and deck of cards that are scattered in and across the top of the water, among all that there are so many fish! But they were not acting normal. Something was different. I noticed one fish, perched still at the top of the water looking up at the sky and sucking in gulps of air, gulp, gulp GULP…as if oxygen was going out of fashion tomorrow.

Then as my eyes panned across the water I saw so many fish doing the same thing, obviously the polluted water blocking any oxygen that the fish had to survive on. Small little baby fish being taught by their parents how to scavenge through the green slime and rubbish to get their food, others chasing each other around the shattered bamboo chair lying half submerged in the water. From the moment these fish hatched out of their eggs until now this lake is all that these fish have known. The slime, the pollution, the broken plates and soggy cigarette butts, this is their world. But I am sure they are happy there, because some of them look happy. Others look like they are about to die and give up hope, but because it is all they have known, they seem to accept it the way it is. If only they knew that their “world” is a stinky, stagnating pond in the middle of a polluted city. Imagine what a difference it would make to that fish to, just for one day, get taken out of that pond and driven out into a remote, untouched beautiful place where the water is pure and clean and clear and full of plants and other fish and shiny stones and flowing water! What would it feel? Maybe it would think thoughts like “All those years I spent in that disgusting polluted pond not knowing what possibilities were out there, not even caring or wanting to know the truth, but happy just going through the motions of generation to generation, surviving, but only just. If only the other fish knew that a reality such as this existed…how different things would be!”

As I’m sitting here by the pond thinking these things, its hard for me not to draw conclusions regarding us humans living in this world. Every day seems to more and more pollution, earthquakes, famines, war, betrayal, murder, pain, sadness, depression and hopelessness. And its funny how even despite all that, we can walk around living our lives as if this is the way things were meant to be. Some of us seem to deal fine with it all, doing our day to day routines with no issues. Others sit at the top of the water gasping for air just to survive each day, often with no one there to help them. But if we could only see that this is not what we were designed for. This kind of life is not all that there is. Outside of this world is a loving God who is waiting for the right time to put an end to all of this misery and craziness and to set things right and put us in our real home. A place where there is no pain. A place where we don’t have to worry for the safety of our children, or watch tsunamis come and wipe out entire cities. A place where people don’t hurt each other because of misunderstandings or jealousy. A place where we can breathe in the deep, clean and fresh waters of freedom and love and never have to fear anything ever again. All it takes to get there is a desire to know the One who will take you there Himself. But only if you let Him.


Monday, February 28, 2011

Street Fight in Hanoi

I have never seen anything like it. Nor do I think I will ever see anything like it again. Today when I was riding my bicycle down the busy main road back to work after my lunch break, I noticed that the traffic was slowing and a small group of curious commuters were gathering looking at something on the sidewalk. If I was in my home country, I would have slowed down, looked and then kept on driving but because I know that everyone stops and has a nosey here, I decided to do the same. As I stopped just far enough away to see what was happening, I saw an angry guy holding another by his shirt. There were another couple of angry guys walking around looking very edgy. There were around 3 or 4 random people casually trying to break up the argument but most other people were just standing around. I tried to figure out what exactly had happened, and when one of the other guys started violently kicking over every sign he could see, another guy grabbed his own motorbike and started to try to drive away. Two guys stopped him and started punching him in the face, repeatedly and for a long time. Then things escalated to a point I never would have imagined. One man fell to the ground, probably from a punch to the face and so the two men started beating the crap out of one other man, over and over and over their fists went into his face until he lost his feet. Then while one of his attackers looked around for a weapon, the other went to the man fallen on the ground and took the biggest kick I have ever seen into his face and kicked him over and over again. I was so angry that noone was really going over to break up the fight, I knew there was nothing I could do because I can't speak Vietnamese, and there were even two army men there who were just standing, watching. Then I was horrified when I saw one of the main attackers come back with a huge brick, and by brick I mean it was 40 x 20cm and the guy could hardly lift it, but in his anger he lifted it up and up and I saw praying, no , please no, but yes, he brought it down with all of his strength onto the mans head. At this point I couldn't believe that all of this was happening on the street, and so many people were standing around just watching, not doing anything. The three guys got back on their motorbike and slowly drove off, right past the army men, and the man lying on the floor who had been round-house kicked to the face struggled to his feet. I couldnt recognise his face for all the blood. He didn't stand for long and at that point I felt so sick in my stomach that I turned and left, as still noone was helping them. What makes me angry, so angry is that how society can be like that, that no one helps, even when someone is at the point of being killed?! The attackers had no weapons (apart from a brick that was too heavy to do anything against a conscious person anyway) and it would have been so easy for a bunch of 4 or 5 guys that were standing around to say, ok, you grab that one, we will grab this one, and we will wait for the police to arrive. But the army guys were there. What use were they? I just cannot fathom how anyone can just stand around and watch that take place. A friend said, well yes Charlene, they were too scared to get involved. Who cares!! there were enough men around to easily overcome all those involved, its just that noone did it. I have lost all faith in this society. Maybe just today while I'm so angry, and yes, I know things like this happen in our countries sometimes, but no, most of the time people do help others, especially in a situation like this with so many people watching etc. Isn't it our human in built duty to protect eachother??? Or maybe I'm just dreaming of a society like that because in recent disaster videos I heard so many people saying, no, lets just help ourselves and save ourselves. Why are we like this?? Is there any way we can change this?? I would like to hear your comments below. For me, I will spend the rest of the afternoon trying to focus on work, but with flashes of the violence coming back into my mind. As a Christian, I am drawn to the bible text that says- "I have told you these things, so that in me (God) you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." So, I know where I will find my peace in this crazy world! How about you?.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hanoi Traffic Food Chain

I am shocked to notice that each day I am forced to ride my bicycle through crazy traffic to get to work, I am finding that subconsciously (well, until yesterday when I realised) I have been playing games in the traffic. Which is quite interesting because technically these games could end up with me with a mangled body, or with my body as a nice covering for the front of a bus. But this is the situation. I ride a bicycle. Which puts me at the bottom of the Hanoi Traffic Food Chain (HTFC) which means I have to give way to EVERYTHING else and am a pleb of society. I am not even required to wear a helmet, but I do, so that makes me the nerd of the plebs of society, but a safe nerd. So back to the race of life on the streets of Hanoi. After work, everyone tries to get home as fast as they can, because the longer you take, the more traffic joins in the race of life. Generally at a figure of 52 metric tonnes a minute. So, if you are unlucky enoughto still be on the roads at 5:34pm or 8:46am, you are likely to be crawling forward in a mass of thick pollution (enough to make ur doctor think u've been a heavy smoker for 8 years) and a clanging of bikes as they all "gently" encourage eachother through to the finish line, wherever that is. Well, lately I have been stepping up my game. i have lost all inhibitions recently harboured by fear of crashing, and have put on my "boots of precision" and "helmet of boldness" and have been driving like a real Hanoian. I don't look behind me, I just go and merge and force other drivers to move around me. If someone is about to swerve into me or merge into me I refuse to move, and therefore take the advanced position when they realise I'm not going to budge. When the traffic is stopped, I use my size advantage of a bicycle to squeeze thru small spaces between moving cars and along the edge of the pavement where bikes can't fit, and I HAVE BEEN VICTORIOUS! HAHA! Often I actually laugh and declare victory chants under my breath as I overtake other competitors....I can actually travel faster than cars and motorbikes now and this gives me a feeling of competetive victory. Unless there is no traffic, and I go back to being the slow pleb on the traffic road of life......... But yes, I have been enjoying travelling to and from work every day. And Mum, if you are reading this, don't stress, I am a very aware driver. I mean rider. Pleb.
One thing I have learnt to master is the use of shields. When crossing a busy flow of traffic, it is vital to use other commuters as shields, and if you are at the top of the line, it is your humanitarian duty to be the shield. Which means you have to push out into the oncoming traffic knowing that they will veer around you, HOPING they will veer around you, and you lead you and your "team" to the other side where you merge and go on your merry way again. It's actually quite a beautiful experience, kind of looks like half of the flying V of ducks. Nature at its best. Although I discovered a problem yesterday when using a huge black car/4x4 as a shield, cos i couldnt see past it. And as I was using it as my shield, it suddenly accellerated and left me in the middle of the road with oncoming traffic coming my way...note to self..... only use shields you can see through.
Anyway, that is alot about traffic, how boring for my readers, I promise a more interesting post next time!!! Love to you all!!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hanoi 2- What Do You Know??

I swear that 95% of taxi drivers are either significantly visually impaired, under the influence of alcohol…..or a good mix of the two. Every time I catch either a car taxi or a motorbike taxi, they stare at where im pointing on the map….cant even make out streets let alone the names..and then take the map and go and get someone in the street to read for them. Every time. I’m not even starting to think about how they can see the road lol…. Might be the reason why there are so many crashes here…. I mean, I could kinda understand how a person on a motorbike can be mistaken as a sign saying SPEED UP!

Well, a few weeks have passed and I am starting to feel more familiar with my surroundings….I know how much I should be paying for things so am slightly reducing the amount that I am being ripped off for just cos I’m a foreigner who can’t speak Vietnamese…

You know living a life like this is all about “knowing” and “patience”. For example….I “know” from experience that no matter where I am, I do get to know my way around, it just takes time, so I will be “patient” until I reach that point. I also “know” that I will make friends and feel content and comfortable, it just takes time so I will be “patient” until I meet people I want to hang out with on a regular basis. I “know” that I will learn to speak the language, and so until then I will be “patient” about being ripped off and about not being able to join in conversations and understand whats really going on. If I don’t cling on to what I know…then I would very easily give up and go home, because it is hard to move to totally new countires and environments all the time, leaving behing everything you know and like and enjoy and understand…. But it’s the “knowing” that makes me force out the “patience” that I need to get through the uncertain stages like this. And because I have such confidence in the fact that everything will happen the way it has in the past, that it is kinda easy for me to move around like this. People ask me all the time, how do you just pick up and leave everything behind, over and over again???? Well, I suppose its that comfort I have in knowing that everything does always work out. Its a lot like my relationship with God too….. I “know” from the past that God has never failed me or led me down the wrong path, so I will have “patience” when things don’t make sense because I “know” that He will never leave me. Its good to know

What do you “know”????.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hanoi Vietnam 2010 First post on Day 1

Vietnam! The city which has forced me to start blogging again after so long. I just need to list all of the reasons why. I want to share with you what I have experienced in just one day, what I have noticed, and what conclusions I have come to already, many coming from previous travel experience. Excuse my bluntness haha. Vietnam does not warm to me like other places have. Maybe its the frame of mind I am in at the moment, maybe its the place itself, but it definately does tell me that I am back in South East Asia. It really does take a professional road-crosser to conquer the insane traffic here, and it is quite easy to do if you take the following advice. If not, your body will be firmly imprinted on the road with bus marks tattooed nicely across you. 1) Ignore all of the crossing-the-road advice your mum taught you when you were 5. 2)DO NOT LOOK LEFT AND RIGHT. 3) Slowly step out onto the street and calmly walk across the road in a straight line at the same slow pace until you reach the other side. 4) pretend that you are not looking at the oncoming traffic, but secretly look out of the corner of your eye just incase one of the many texting-while riding-my-motorbike people are heading your way. 5) If other pedestrians are crossing too, follow one at 7'oclock angle behind them to add a buffer in case you get hit.... hahaha.. ok, that is sneaky but it works if you go with other pedestrians. if you follow these road rules of mine, you will survive more than one day. There are soooo many accidents here all the time, I saw one guy being flung vertically up in the air, do three rotations mid-air, then fall gracefully to the ground after another bike clipped the front of his. He just got up and drove on like it was just a fly in his eye or something, I had to laugh. It is alot cooler than I thought it would be, I was hoping for hot hot hot.... but its cool and sunny, so I suppose I can't complain. Yesterday, the day I arrived, I caught a bike to a big shopping centre, and when I tried to go into the huge supermarket, they wouldn't let me, and pointed to my bag, then out side. So It took me a few seconds to look around and see that no bags or ANYTHING is allowed inside the shop! Only your purse in your hand. So I went and lined up to have a lady take my bag (luckily it only had some brochures inside) and I got a key for the locker it was in. I suppose that way, no-one can steal unless they put it in their pants. I vowed never to come here carrying anything, cos i didnt want to hide it in my pants because I would refuse to leave my valuables there, and I dont have a jacket to hide it in! Next challenge was shopping. I went to a shopping centre called BIG C...because it sounded big, and all good things start with C... As I was walking in this group of university age girls rushed up to me and asked me to write my name on their pice of paper....I saw the list of names looked very international cos you had to write your country too.... so reluctantly I wrote England and spelt my name totally wrong, then they asked me to sign, I was like, I'm not signing, but I thought, I'll just fake my signature too... so I did that then they gave me a free packet of toothpicks.... then I thought that was it, but when I tried to walk away they stopped me and pointed me to another section which says how much I would pay and then pulled out this English document with VIETNAM Blind Association or something and demanded that I pay a donation because I had already signed!!! I said yeah right, I dont donate by trickery, and forcedly pushed my way through them and walked on. I reminded myself why it was a stupid idea to sign in the first place even though it was all fake details.... But I was tired from my 24hour travel that I had just done! I havent lived in an Asian country for a long time and forgot how hard it is to figure out what to buy!!! it is usually limited to products with pictures on it, or things with see-through packaging, because I have no idea what the name says cos I can't read Vietnamese.... Once I make a friend or two I will get them to go shopping with me to help me learn what are the good products. And by "good" I mean avoiding dodgey products, like the sealed water I picked up, but when I held it under my arm, all the water started pouring out of the top and onto the floor, via dripping through my much for sealed. Motorbike Taxi (herefore referred to as "moto's") drivers can be so nice sometimes, but on the flipside can be such jerks!!! One of my drivers yesterday agreed to charge 30,000Dong to drive me to the market. When we got there he demanded 40,000D. there was no miscommuncation because three fingers means 30,000, and he did not put up four fingers, and so I tried arguing but he blatently refused and was causing a scene so I angrily gave him 40,000D. The ONLY time I EVER get angry wherever I travel around the world, has only EVER been with moto taxi drivers.... So I suppose I will be happy with that cos it could be worse. Like if I couldn't stand people......or if I was allergic to nuts or wheat. Today I went for a walk around the main centre in the city of Hanoi, which has a big lake in the middle. By lake I mean body of green, murkey means you can kind of see through it.... more green,milky dark green gross water that I swore nothing could live in....but as I sat by the edge on a chair kindly donated by Cathay Pacific..or cathay something, I saw a fish jump out! I noticed that there were birds singing in the trees so I looked up only to see a few small bird cages hanging in the tree, with noisy birds inside, that were clearly there to make bird noises because no bird in their right mind would like in Hanoi city lol.... I also noticed that one of the cages was out over the water, and I wondered how it got fed, because the tree wasn't the type you could climb...and I guessed that the only way they could feed it was to get a long pole and unhook the cage and lift it back across the water. I then wondered how many bird cages dropped into the green water and were lost forever. But then I came up with the thought that the fish that I saw jumping out of the water was some exotic imported jumping fish that they keep in a small clean watered pool in the middle of the river and makes everyone think that the green lake actually has fish in it!!!!! Thats what I think anyway haha. So yes, here I am at the end of my first 24 hours in Hanoi. Tomorrow I will try to go shopping for a few neccessities that I had to leave behind because I could only bring one suitcase, so have a busy day planned. If I am going to stay here 6-9months, then I had better learn Vietnamese fast. Kam Unh!!! Sin Loi. (PS- I officially apologise to the authorities for breaking through the restricted internet to access facbook, lol..... as if they can stop me doing that!!! I got the info on how to do it off the internet because every foreigner who lives here has done it. That makes it ok, right? lol).

Monday, September 28, 2009


I never tire of driving through a country like this, looking out the window of the car, or even better, from the back of a taxi motorbike with the warm humid wind rushing all over me. So many children running around playing, some chasing eachother through trees and their parents side-road lean-to shops, others competing for the few nuts remaining in the high tree tops, each one taking turns to fling the stones hoping to be the victor who would take the prize home, others lying still in their hammocks in the heat of the day. , others carrying younger siblings, even when they are barely walking themselves, some kicking bottles in a much anticipated soccer game against the kids from the other end of the village… all in innocent joy…..and these are tagged as poor poverty struck children? Hardly. I don’t know which I would prefer to see… kids running around playing together, or children glued to the tv every morning and afternoon, and when they are not doing that, they are on their gameboys and nintendos in their rooms….. interesting comparisons. What a rich childhood for these Cambodian children…who know how to untangle and fix fish nets after the afternoon of fishing in the recently filled waterhole from the rainy season, and bringing some small fish home for their family, before they are even 8 pr 9 years old…who have a responsibility for their siblings lives as soon as there is a younger brother or sister. I have seen countless times a 3 year old kid guiding their 1yr old sibling away from the danger of the road when in our country they wouldn’t even know how to keep themselves from danger… These half clothed kids are so good and making makeshift toys too… anything from flowers to rocks to straw. Very creative. A simple life. Such a foreign concept for me. My life is spent rushing from one thing to the next. I saw a mother just standing watching the beautiful sun set over green rice paddies as if she hadn’t a care in the world….. when was the last time that I did the same without being pulled away by pressures of my next appointment. So what is the difference between the two scenarios of her life and mine?? Is it merely the absence or presence of wealth? Is it the fact that I am so materialistic that I cannot “waste” a moment that could be spent attaining something like money, social status, self-satisfaction or entertainment? Can I learn from her to be content with the fact that I have a roof over my head, even if it is straw, and have a meal on the table, even if it is only rice and some beans? Is she happier than me? Is it about happiness or is it really about being content with what you have, and what you DON’T have. Is it a bad thing that I can eat what I want, when I want, buy what I want when I want and go wherever I please. I sometimes wish I was born into the “other” side of the world. Maybe then I would have time for God, more than a few rushed moments in time a day. Maybe then I would really live my life how it was meant to be……working the fields, eating my own produce…instead of spending a lifetime in front of my computer or indulging in self gratification. What would happen if all of a sudden I was in her life, and she swapped to mine? Would people that know me notice a change? Would I become more giving, sharing, grateful, worthy of the things that I have? Would the people that know her notice a change in her?? How would I live my life as her? Would I sit and cry because I don’t have this or that, or cry out to the rest of the world to notice me and my poor situation and wonder how no one is helping me?? Or would I get on with life and live?.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Crocodiles and Butterflies (Solomon Islands)

It's funny how our minds work. My equation to explain it is this: active imagination + slight possibility= worse case scenario. If you are around children with headlice, isn't it funny how your head starts to get really itchy and you swear that you have contracted headlice, but you never really get any. You hear the rumour (however realistic it is) about how 1 in 3 people have worms, and then you suddenly feel something moving inside your stomach. Plus looking at the two people either side of you and wondering which of you is more likely to have worms. or when it's your first time to visit a place which has the occasional crocodile spotting and so while snorkelling in the beautiful multicouloured-fish-filled waters of the Western Solomon Islands, every direction you are not looking, you can just sense a 6-foot dark yellow-eyed salt water croc watching your every move, carefully observing which legs looks nicest to grab! But then, now is always the best time to tell yourself to get over it. Sitting about 5 metres from the ocean waves noisily throwing themselves onto the small measure of beach left at high tide, sitting in an old wooden chair in a hut-style rotunda in an eco-lodge in Ramata. I have plenty of time on my hands to relax and put my feet up after a busy day and recall my recent thoughts, which may I say are many as I have had alot of alone time lately (seems to happen alot here, I love it!) which is usually a catalyst for deep, profound and inspiring thoughts from the mind of Charlene. One image I just can't seem to push from my mind is one which I see sometimes while sitting on the bow of the boat, hugging the rim with my knees to stop myself from plunging into the warm water in rough conditions, sitting for hours on end while the 25 horsepower engine whines in the background as we plod our way to the next destination to meet with women from the Marovo Women's Association. More women's groups, more monitoring, more businesses to visit. While going along slowly, dodging rocks and coral which is sticking up too high for the propeller's liking, I never tire from looking down into the crystal clear water, amazed that at even 4 or 5 metres of water I can see every fish going about his or her daily schedule, annoyed at being rudely interrupted, but still showing its beautiful colours, probably totally unaware at how amazingly stunning it looks! But what impresses me most are the butterflies. not because they are beautiful or graciously gentle, but for their utterly incomprehensible will power and commitment to never give up. As we are speeding along I see many of them, sometimes battling against strong wind and relentless rain, in the middle of the lagoon, with a kilometre or so to the next island or land mass. How in the world do they do it? I am sure some of them fly so hard and so long and are in close range of their destination, only to be tragically blown half-way back by a strong ocean wind- but they keep on if nothing can beat them down, with a 'never settle for less' attitude that inspires me. and today, I saw a small one, a young one, and i thought to myself, what a great example to me of how I should live my life. Never letting being young stop me from doing anything. making sure that what is at the end of my journey, has been well worth it. I wonder why such a small butterfly would leave the comforts of its home and everything that is familiar, and go out across the ocean, to fight wind, rain, bird, boat or whatever its challenges are- all to get to the other side. I don't know if that butterfly made it to its destination. I sure hope it did because it deserved it. but all I know is that sometimes God calls us to be like that small butterfly- to leave our comforts behind and go, but unlike the butterfly, at least we know that our destination is worth it. What an example of never giving up. But I think it's time for me to give up writing now, because I have been bitten twice now by fire ants crawling up my chair and on to the table. they are so small I wonder how is it physically possible for them to bit me and yet a daddy-long-legs spider can't. So I will just sit here and stare at the ocean, in the vain hope that I will see a whale or dolphins cruising by. waiting for the cassava, tai-yo, coconut milk and mushroom and capsicum soup and rice to digest so I can hit my mosquito net shrouded bed, and hopefully get a full night's sleep, uninterrupted by my active imagination + slight possibility=worstcase scenario's involving bed bugs and malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Oh I love my job! Now I clearly understand why they call them FIRE ants!! ouch!!