Thursday, September 27, 2007

Shopping in Vietnam

Ben Tanh Market

Saigon Square

All the things I brought back from Vietnam

12 different pairs of chopsticks

Porcelain from Minh Long

The Birth of Jesus


Things are not very expensive in Vietnam but food is expensive. You must know how to bargain until almost 50 - 60% of the initial quoted price. You can bargain in English or Mandarin. Normally, they would quote the price in Vietnamese Dong. Then, you can divide that figure by 16000 Dong to convert it to USD (the current exchange rate). You can multiply that figure by 3.5 to give the RM equivalent. You may pay either in USD or Vietnamese Dong. Be careful if you pay in USD and they want to return the change in Dong. Calculate properly before you agree. Otherise, you may end up paying more. You may use their calculator to check.

I would suggest that you look out for a particular stall that has most of the things you wish to buy. Then, you have more bargaining power. Some would even give you their name card and ask you to introduce your friends to them. Generally, they are very friendly.

Ben Tanh market is a good place to shop for Vietnamese souvenirs. The night market is just outside Ben Tanh and things are normally cheaper. Saigon Square is the ideal place to shop for 'branded' goods. The price is comparable to shopping in Bandung, Indonesia. The quality of the product is pretty high. Saigon Square will be my next target if I ever visit Ho Chi Minh city again.

4th, 5th and 6th Day in Vietnam

Fourth Day (Friday)

Two meetings were scheduled. The meeting in the afternoon is about 1 hour drive away. So, after the first meeting in the morning, we returned to the hotel for awhile to collect our stuff and left for Dong Nai – a town where the College is situated. Upon arriving, we had steamboat for lunch.

I was not directly involved in this meeting with the College. I was there as an observer, and I have learnt much from my colleague Anis who presented to a group of about 200 students.

Scenes from Dong Nai

Anis and my other colleague planned to go to Saigon Square for shopping, but I decided to return to the hotel to rest. However, at about 7 pm, they called me up for dinner at Pho 24. It seemed that Saigon Square has closed. At Pho 24, I had the first taste of ice blended ciku – awesome!

Big ciku in Vietnam

After dinner, Anis shopped around the hotel, but I went back to the hotel to prepare for the last meeting tomorrow.

Fifth Day (Saturday)
The meeting was held at a College in Binh Duong which is about an hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. We had a meeting with the management team in the morning. Before lunch, they took us to Minh Long –

Minh Long known throughout Asia and Europe for its high quality porcelain was founded in 1970 by Mr. Ly Ngoc Minh, a man inspired by and devoted to creating exquisite porcelain. Minh Long is an independent family owned and operated company. Each piece of Minh Long porcelain is unequaled in craftsmanship and artistry. Its beauty and elegance has captured my heart. I bought a set of figurines that depict the birth of Jesus in the Manger. It includes baby Jesus, Joseph, Mary, three wise men, 2 angels and 3 barn animals. I also bought baby Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Daisy.

We were so engrossed in choosing the porcelain that the hosts had to keep on reminding us that it was time for lunch. Lunch was fantastic – fish soup, prawns, clams, bitter gourd, and special coconut jelly for dessert. The rice was served in a unique manner – 2 little bowls closed together. I could finish only 1 bowl. It tasted nice – soft and the grain looks smaller than the rice here.

After the feast, it was time to meet with the students. There were about 400 students in the class! Firstly, we showed the corporate VCD of the College. Then, I gave a general presentation on the facilities and courses we offer. Next, I passed the remaining time to Anis to share with them 10 reasons to study at our College. Finally, we had the Q&A session. This is the first time I spoke to a group of students who mostly don’t speak/understand English. The translators were really helpful indeed. It is a good experience for me to share with such a big crowd, and to talk at a slower pace.

After the talk with the students, the Management presented each one of us with a gift from Minh Long – a porcelain plate which illustrates the vivid beauty of Vietnamese Culture. Cool, eh? It was a surprise. This is the only institution that treated us lunch and presented us with gift. They also provided us with transport to the College. Hehehe!

Scenes from Binh Duong

We left the College at about 3:30 pm. We went back to the hotel to change. Then, Anis and I took the taxi to Saigon Square – where she was trying to go the previous day. Actually, it was not closed but it has moved to another location nearby. Maps to the new location were distributed outside the old premises, and so we took the same taxi there. Saigon Square is a representative of modern shopping in Vietnam. It is new and clean. There are about 20 retail outlets selling ‘branded’ leather products, backpack, shirts and shoes. Seng Chor would be delighted to ‘make friends’ with the ‘pirates’.

After checking out the price, I was so tempted to buy a Guess handbag for 280 000 Dong = RM 61.00. Eventually, I didn’t and got branded a “bad girl” by the retailer. Hehehe! To celebrate my ‘achievement’ (able to control myself), I bought myself a bag with handmade embroidery for 130 000 Dong (RM 28). That’s all I bought from Saigon Square.

Next, we took the cab to Ben Tanh Market. Anis wanted to get some sandals. Well, I shopped again, but very little:

  • 2 Key chains

  • A spoon made of sea shell

  • A bookmark

We had dinner at Pho 2000 – a cheaper restaurant than Pho 24. I ordered the refreshing ice blended ciku again. Then, we shopped some more at the night market because Ben Tanh market was closed. I bought 4 pairs of earrings.

Finally, it was enough! We took the cab back to the hotel and started to pack.

Sixth and Last Day (Sunday)
Anis and I traveled back to KLIA. Our flight landed before 1:30 pm.

Third Day in Vietnam

Thursday, 20 September 2007 - "Flying Rice"

We (colleague and agents) visited a University. As they were busy preparing for their 10th anniversary celebration on Saturday (22 September 2007), the meeting was cut short. However, one of the lecturers gave us a tour around the campus. I’m surprised that they are still using blackboard and chalk to teach. It reminds me of my school days. However, they have good facilities for food technology programme.

Saigon Technology University

As the meeting was really short, the 2 lovely agents in Vietnam took me shopping at Ben Tanh market – the place I shopped on the first day. They helped me to bargain and advised me on the best buy. What did I buy?
• A pair of sandals
• Tiny forks and spoons made of buffalo horn
• 3 wooden mirrors
• 1 wooden jewellery box
• 14 T-shirts
• 1 Vietnamese costume for Jordan
• 10 wooden painted butterflies for display

For lunch, they took me to Pho 24 – the place I had dinner on the first night. Pho 24 is everywhere. This one is next to Ben Tanh market. Nearby the hotel, there are 2 more Pho 24 restaurants. It reminds me of the 7-ll outlets in Hong Kong – you can find it in almost every corner. I ordered the same combo set – beef noodle, cane drink and caramel custard.

As it was still early, we went back to Ben Tanh market to shop again! I bought:
• A lantern
• The Kissing pigs for Jordan

It was almost 1 pm – time to leave for the next meeting.

The next meeting was at FPT University. It was a fruitful discussion. The MOU was signed by various parties, so I look forward to welcome students from the University.

The men had their own agenda after the meeting. For me, I decided to return to the hotel, used the Wifi at the Givral Palace in the hotel, and waited for my colleague, Anis who was arriving in the evening. She arrived at the hotel before 5:30 pm. This is her 3rd visit to Vietnam.

For dinner, Anis took my other colleague and me to a restaurant that serves “flying rice”. It’s very interesting indeed. The rice is cooked until it is almost burnt – so, it is a bit crispy, and looks like a rice cake. The serving is very unique – 2 persons are involved. On one end, one person breaks the plate and throws the rice to other person who stands next to our table. This second person catches and bounces it a few times before serving it. Next, he would mix the various sauces onto the rice and serve. Since we ordered two “flying rice”, they performed the stunt twice. The taste – as good as the serving!

I heard from my colleague that there were occasions when then second person failed to catch the rice. Then, the customers would “Woo” them. Hehehe! The rest of the dishes were pretty normal.

Since it was raining, we went back to the hotel – no more shopping for the day.

Our pot of rice

Steamed Fish

Chicken with cashew nuts

The "Flying Rice"

The sauces for "Flying Rice"

Video clip of the "Flying Rice"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Second Day in Vietnam – Afternoon

In the afternoon, we visited IT College, which is about 30 minutes from the hotel. Overall, it was a good discussion. We hope that we can collaborate in the future.

After the meeting, we went back to the hotel to meet up with our agent from Malaysia who has just arrived with a friend. We chatted for awhile. Then, they took us to the hotel where they are staying – just a few blocks from Palace Hotel. It’s probably a one-star hotel but looks cozy. Next, we shopped at a supermarket just opposite Palace Hotel. I bought chips (mixed fruits, jackfruit and banana), nougat, chewing gum, Vietnamese coffee and dried longan. Finally, we had dinner at a restaurant called 19. The most unique dish is the yam soup which is purple in colour. I enjoyed the coconut and fruits too. It was a satisfying dinner.

After dinner, I went back to my room to rest.

A wedding dinner - looks posh.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Second Day at Vietnam

On Wednesday, I visited a handicraft government factory for disabled. They are victims from the war. From the photos, you can observe their skills and creativity. Awesome!

After that, I made a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnel.

Cu Chi used to be a bitter battleground for many years during the Vietnam war. It is actually an “underground village” with the intricate network of over 200 km tunnels. A unique architectural structure, this is a system of tunnels deeply underground, with several floors, a labyrinth of intricate ways and windings, wherein are sections for accommodations, meeting, and preparing for battles.

According to the brochure, the Tunnel System embodies the undaunted will, intelligence, and pride of Cu Chi people, a symbol of Vietnamese revolutionary heroism. Hence, Cu Chi has been awarded the title of “Iron Land and Bronze Citadel”. To me, the tunnel is comparable to the Great Wall in China. It’s truly amazing!

You can also challenge yourselves with rifle shooting at shooting range, which my colleague did. I just watched from the side. The sound from the rifle was overwhelming.

The Government Factory

Cu Chi Tunnel

Monday, September 24, 2007

Palace Hotel Saigon, Vietnam

Palace hotel is a three star hotel which retains its original French architecture style in Ho Chi Minh City - Saigon. The Palace hotel is conveniently located in the heart of the Saigon city, within walking distance of the main business district, shopping centers, Ben Thanh market and entertainment area.

On the first day, I was given a suite because the hotel was fully booked. It was a big room with 2 single beds and 1 double bed. Well, I slept only on one single bed. I moved to the standard room on the next day, and shared the room with my colleague, Anis when she arrived on Thursday, 20 September 2007.

The buffet breakfast was cool. It was on the 14th floor - rooftop. The view was great indeed. Nice breeze as well. What did I eat? Dumpling, sausages, bacon, porridge (once), bread, muffin (once), noodle (everyday), omelette, fruits (dragon fruit, watermelon). Drinks - fruit juices (orange, pineapple), coffee and tea. Of course, I didn't eat and drink all these in one meal. I had most of it everyday. Hehehe...

My hotel rooms

Scenes from the Hotel Rooftop

First Day in Vietnam

As soon as I arrived at the hotel, my colleague straight away asked me to go shopping with him. He found out the direction to this famous Benh Tanh Market - something like our Central Market but cheaper stuff. There is a night market in that area as well. We walked there - about 10 minutes. It was difficult because of the traffic. As I mentioned before, crossing the road is a real challenge in Vietnam. Furthermore, they drive on the left-hand size of the car. So, my colleague had to warn me each time I tried to cross the road. We need to look at both directions because sometimes the motorbikes zig-zag along the road but they don't drive as fast as the Malaysian bikers.

Things that I bought on the first day:

  • Chopsticks with various designs

  • 50 key chains

  • 2 Jewellery boxes made of stone

  • Fridge magnets

After that, we had dinner at Pho 24 - a chain restaurant on the street next to the hotel. It's my first bowl of beef noodle (Pho). I ordered the combo set which came with the beef noodle, a can of cane drink and caramel custard. It was a good meal - 43000 Dong ~ RM 10.

Next, we had Vietnamese coffee at the Givral Place in the hotel. There's free Wifi access. So, we checked our emails and I chatted awhile on the msn.

I went to bed around 12 midnight - Malaysia time. Vietnam is actually one hour behind Malaysia.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Posting from Vietnam!

This is my 3rd day in Vietnam.

First impression - Bad traffic. I am still amazed at how the people drive in Vietnam. I thought that it was bad in Beijing, but Vietnam is worse. You need to be very brave to drive here. Crossing the road is a challenge as well. The motorbikes come in all directions. There are so many motorbikes around. The cyclists do not wear helmet. Most of them wear a handkerchief as a mask.

Up to now, I have visited 3 institutions:

  • Information Technology College (ITC)

  • Saigon Technology University (STU)

  • FPT University

I will update more about my trip soon….

Right now, I am chatting with Seng Chor, my colleague and friends on Live Messenger…

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Vietnam Trip

Today, I will be leaving for Vietnam for a business trip to promote the courses in my College. I’ll be back on Sunday, 23 September 2007. This will be my second time away from Jordan for such a long time – 6 days. The first long absence from him was my Hong Kong trip when I went there to present my research paper at a Conference. Seng Chor went with me. We were there for 7 days.

I’m going to miss Jordan a lot. I told him about my trip. I also told him that I would pray for him every day. Gave him lots of kisses last night and this morning. He gave me one kiss this morning. I almost cried as I see him leave for the babysitter.

Hopefully, can update from Vietnam…

Down Memory Lane - Concerts

1988 - First concert - Anita Mui in Concert featuring the Grasshoppers (Kota Kinabalu)
The best thing about this concert – “It was free!” My Aunt Mary who works with the Press got complimentary tickets, and I got to sit on the second row from the stage! I actually had to lift up my head to see her – so close indeed. I could almost touch her. She was both a great singer and performer. The Grasshoppers were wonderful too and of course good looking.

1994 – Sally Yeh and George Lam (Kuala Lumpur)
I was working in Kuala Lumpur, then.
The thing that I remember most about the concert:
During a short Q&A session, she told the audience that we can ask any question about her except about “Wu So Lou” aka George Lam the guy with the moustache. It was kind of a sensitive issue at that time.
Overall, it was great vocal and entertainment.

1995 - First concert with Mum, sister and good friend from KK
Jacky Cheung @ Shah Alam Stadium
It was drizzling in the middle but he still continued to perform energetically. The stage was in the open air but our seats were covered.
The most memorable thing about the concert:
It was on my birthday!

1996 - First concert with Seng Chor
Michael Jackson @ Stadium Negara ) - HIStory Tour
I was really excited about it. We weren’t dating yet. We just went to the concert as friends. Hmm…my heart did beat a little bit faster as I sat next to him. Until today, I could still remember what shirt he wore – a light blue one. Michael Jackson was no doubt superb! Everything was awesome – singing, dancing, stage prop, etc. It was unforgettable!

Salvage Garden @ Shah Alam Stadium
I think this is the shortest concert that I’ve ever attended. Before the seats were warmed up, the concert ended. Actually, Seng Chor and I were slightly late but the concert was really short too. We have started dating.
Favourite song of the night – Lemon Tree.

Kelly Chen @ Arena of Stars, Genting
This is the first free concert with Seng Chor, and first concert as husband and wife. He won the tickets through a competition. Cool, eh?

Second Jacky Cheung Concert – The Year of Jacky Cheung World Tour 2007
Friday, 14 September 2007
@ Bukit Jalil National Stadium
When Yoke Kheng first asked me about the concert, I didn’t hesitate and agreed almost immediately. It’s cool to attend his concert for the second time, and I was happy to take a break from Jordan.

Yoke Kheng, Serene and I arrived before 7:30 pm. We walked towards the Green area for the RM 138 ticket. The queue was much shorter than the RM88 ticket section. We waited for about 5 to 10 minutes for the gates to open. Our bags were checked briefly. Then, we bought ourselves dinner – I had sandwiches and fruits. Next, we walked to Block 210 for our seats. Surprisingly, the ushers told us that our seats have been upgraded to RM 198, which is the lower tier. The reason they gave was that our seat area was blocked by the spotlights. Well, whatever the reason is, we thank God that we could be closer to Jacky. So, we were ushered to our new seats and I started to munch my dinner. It was about 7:45 pm. Kevin arrived shortly after that. He was the one who bought the tickets for us. He bought it before the promotional period, and this could also be the reason for the upgrade as well. J

The concert started at about 8:40 pm, only about 10 minutes late, and guess what, it drizzled as well…but only for a few minutes. Anyway, our seats were covered, only the stage and VIP seats were in the open air. He told the audience that he would be willing to get soaked in the rain together with them. The audience screamed with delight.

He shared that he started his singing career at the age of 23, and that’s 23 years ago. Well, we could then all guess his age – 23+23 = 46 years old! He has 2 daughters. As he shared about his family, he sang songs that he composed especially for them. He composed 2 songs one for his first daughter and another for his wife. He proudly said that he composed both the lyrics and music. He composed for his daughter first because he made a promise to compose for her. Later, his wife also made a request for a song. As for the second daughter, he hasn’t written a song for her yet, as she doesn’t know how to ask him to do so. However, for the time being, he dedicated a Mandarin song to her. The song that he wrote for his wife is really beautiful. He said that anyone can use this song and dedicate it to their loved ones – wife, husband, girlfriend, and boyfriend. He quipped that the more we use the songs, the ‘fatter’ (i.e. richer) he gets. Hehehe! Actually, I was expecting him to flash pictures of his family as he sang those songs dedicated to them. Oh well….

He jokingly shared that he didn’t know that man exists until he was 3 years old. Most of the male in his family – father, uncles, cousins were sailors. He didn’t get to see his father until he was 3 years old because his father came back every 3 years from his sailing trip. So, at 3 years old, he realized that there are men in the world. He has been surrounded by women all his life – now, he has 2 daughters, his wife is of course a woman, including the maids, there are 8 women staying in the house with him. That’s why he said that he understands women very well. The crowd cheered! Then, he added, “Of course, I also understand man because I am a man! More screaming and shouting from the crowd was heard.

Besides singing his own hit songs, he sang few songs from other singers as well – Cantonese and Mandarin. Some of the lyrics were shown on the screen so that the audience could sing along. Too bad I couldn’t read much. I would love to sing along with him. Thankfully, I managed to borrow the binoculars from Dolly. He definitely looked older (I could almost see his wrinkles on the forehead) but still got the boyish look when he smiled. I think he has a scar below his right eye.

He is a versatile entertainer/performer/artist. He joked, sang, danced and acted in the concert. I would say that the concert is divided into 4 parts – the Introduction, sharing of his life and family through words and songs, the musical drama – Perhaps Love (cool acting by Jacky), and the final encore. The encore itself was more than half an hour! Amazing!

The concert ended at about 12:05 am – 3 and a half hours! There was a jam at the exit, but we eventually avoided it and had a smooth journey after that. I reached home at 1:30 am. This is another highlight for me this year.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Merdeka Community Fun Fair (25 August 2007)

The KBU stalls

Have Fun with Robotic Games!

Getting my own caricature...

One of the Yellow DIGI men.

Motorbike from the Fire Engine Department

Police Motorbike

Jordan, Seng Chor and Digi Man

Digi Man and I

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Tooth is Officially Dead!

At around 5:20 pm, Tuesday, 11 September 2007, my front tooth died! The root canal procedure has been completed. Crowning is the next step, and that will be administered after 3 months. It’s going to cost a bomb because I had to crown both of my big front teeth! Hmm…the crowning seems like a funeral service for my tooth. It will big be sealed permanently. The colour of the original tooth will grow darker and darker (c.f. In the coffin, our body rots, and only bones remain).

There is no more pain, but I still need to be careful not to bite hard stuff. The tooth is still fragile. I actually asked the dentist whether my tooth would drop off easily or not. He said no. Phew! I almost had sleepless nights thinking that my tooth may just fall off while I lecture. Hahaha!

My Mum encouraged me by saying that my perseverance will pay off when one day I’ll have 2 beautiful front teeth and a great smile! She added, “Remember there’s always light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.”

Thanks, Ma.

Monday, September 10, 2007

More like Mama...

7th Wedding Anniversary

Seng Chor and I celebrated our 7th Wedding anniversary on Sunday, 9 September 2007. SEVEN! It's like unbelievable.

As usual, he tried to book the hotel but it was fully booked until October. So, we have postponed the hotel stay until the first weekend of October. It's lovely of him to plan something different to celebrate our anniversary every year. Last year, we had lobster at Pantai Seafood Restaurant. The taste was unforgettable. I was wondering whether or when I would be able to enjoy lobster again. Well, I had to wait for one year. This year is even more amazing. Instead of one , Seng Chor ordered TWO lobsters - Boston Lobster! Double joy!

This is the first time we ate lobster with claws, and Seng Chor gave me all the flesh in the claws to eat. I also get to eat the flesh in the lobster's tail. The taste is awesome - so sweet, so fresh and tasty... Jordan enjoyed the meal too. We allowed him to eat and play with the 'decorations' around the lobster - cucumber, orange and tomatoes. He drank the soup as well - kept asking for more "soup". He loved it. I gave him a tiny bite of lobster. He didn't seem to like it though. Oh, he drank almost 3/4 of my orange juice. Overall, he was happy throughout the dinner.

I can't stop thinking about the sweetness of the lobster. Hmmm...probably need to wait for another year or more to enjoy lobster again.