Goodbye No 79

June 15 was a very sad day for us, marked as the day we finally moved out of 79 Clares Green Road.
Actually, the saddest day was a few days before that, as all of our “stuff” was out of there by the 12th.
In the last few weeks there, despite the passing of Vera, we managed to have a gathering to celebrate the final stages. Family and friends joined us for that and we had a great “long weekend” of eating, drinking and being sill as usual. Our thanks to all who came and helped make our last fling there another great memory of No 79.
Although we had owned the place for almost 7 years we only really lived there for 2, as we were in Asia most of the other 5. That doesn’t detract from the charm of the place, and really only made us that much sadder to have never used the place to its fullest potential. Certainly each time we came home from our Expat life we always felt sad about not getting the place into more of what we wanted it to be, and even sadder about leaving again when it was time to do so.
Ah well; all good things come to an end, as they say!
Just time for one last drink by the fire in our lovely back yard.

Here are a few shots of the old place – souvenirs.
This is the back yard, taken from the upstairs bathroom window. You can (just about) see the early mist over the field out the back. This was a primary motivation for buying the house – the “country” at the rear.

Here’s another shot of the back yard – fabulous!

and this is the Wisteria, flowering for the first time. The last 2 houses we have bought we planted a Wisteria when we moved in, then moved shortly after it first started flowering (maybe there’s a lesson to learn there?).

Here’s a few before and after pictures:

The living room

The dining room

our bedroom

and what we considered mum’s (Vera’s) bedroom, as we left it.


Simply having a wonderful Christmas time

It looks like Rudolf got lost somewhere and ended up in our garden.

Despite that we had a good Christmas with family and friends gathered round the table.

. . . . and someone obviously finding something VERY funny!
to everyone

Cambodia 2008

We had been to Cambodia before, 3 years ago, to see Angkhor Wat.
Stunning – but still an eye opener to the poverty and desolate lifestyle of many people.
It did not however prepare us for Phnom Penh.
Right from the moment we arrived at the boat landing in the city we were met by the most abject looking individuals I have ever encountered. The people, almost everyone (or so it seemed to me) was wearing a look of absolute misery. Immediately asking either to help (with hand held out) or just begging. All ages. Even the children are very practised at this ( this was the same in Angkhor, but there the children generally greeted you with a smile).
Upon arrival we picked a taxi driver to take us to the hotel. Same as before, here was a guy with a car who wanted to be our guide for a few days. At $30 US per day, including car and driver/guide, that’s a steal, but of course requires one to be careful in selecting a partner for a few days. By the time we arrived at the hotel, about 35 minutes ride, we had decided to trust the guy, and hired him. Mind you, in that ½ hr he had already given us another of what seems to be the spiel there, all about his family having been bombed by the Americans, then killed by the Khmer Rouge/Pol Pot and then “liberated” by the Vietnamese. So much so that his mother, who had 12 Children, had lost all but 4 of them and now (my age) could never stop crying!
What a start.
First up we went to see the genocide museum – one of the killing fields from the Khmer Rouge / Pol Pot days.
How could/can people do that.
The entrance is a tower full of skulls, which show off the killing methods. No bullets used – would not waste the ammo; hammer or other blunt instrument blows or driving nails into the head; axes to the head; throats cut, sometimes with the serrated edge of a fresh cut palm tree branch. Bodies were then tossed into mass graves and buried. At the base of the tower was a pile of clothes removed from the prisoners.

This area (the whole prison) was about 1 sq km (300m x 300m or so) and is/was believed to have held almost 9000 bodies. Many of the graves have been exhumed now, and left on display, like the one in the pic here, as a memorial. Still today, as one walks around, there are bones and teeth oozing out of the ground.
Men, women and children, all killed here.
One should also remember that these atrocities were largely committed by children too, under the leadership of only a few adults.
We employed a guide for the museum – the whole aspect of the place, along with his stories (also of how is family was decimated) was extremely depressing.

After this, and in order to get all this out of the way quickly, we went to the infamous Tuong Slor prison of torture and death. This was the processing facility for people going to the killing fields. It had once been a school – what a corruption. Right in the middle of a residential district too, though one must also remember that Pol Pot emptied the cities and made everyone work in the fields. Being anything other than a peasant qualified one, and one’s family, for the prison and/or the killing fields. Teachers, doctors, politicians, civil servants, bosses – almost anything could get one arrested; even something as trivial as wearing glasses got one classed as an intellectual and arrested.

The prison was even worse than the killing fields with all the cell layout and torture tools on show, as well as pictures of the victims and paintings (done by a guy now participating in the recent Khmer Rouge trials) of the torture. There was also a film that followed the life story of one woman and her lover through that period, with interviews with the mother.
Enough to reduce me to tears.

Once again – it must be remembered that children were trained to do all this.
Talk about mans inhumanity to man.

All this while being surrounded by miserable looking people, beggars and poverty of all descriptions was awful. Then one also gets to thinking about:
This all went on until about 1998 when the Khmer Rouge were finally ousted – starting in earnest with the Americans indiscriminately bombing the country (Napalm and Agent Orange too) to try to weed out the VietCong; then progressing through Pol Pot to the fight between the Kmer’s and the Vietnamese who eventually became the liberators of Cambodia – even if not to everyone’s benefit.
Since 1998 gobs of aid money has poured into Cambodia, but there is little evidence today of that aid getting to the general population. There are still raggedy assed – bare assed – sometimes naked children running round the streets, and there are more dirty/badly clothed people in the streets here than I have seen anywhere else in SE Asia (yet). Not obvious where that money is getting stuck eh?
So that first exposure to Phnom Penh certainly took the edge off our trip. I couldn’t wait to get out, quite honestly, and nothing afterwards, even if we did try to lighten things up for the last couple of days, served to change my mind.
I’ll leave it up to Tricia to tell the story of the other – lighter side, of things.

Vietnam, then Cambodia

Another short holiday exploring more of SE Asia. Back to Vietnam again, with a couple of days in Ho Chi Minh City at the beginning, then a few days in the Mekong Delta region. After that it was a boring taxi boat (about 10 passengers) up the Mekong to Phnom Penh in Cambodia, and then several days there.

Here’s one way to get around – bloody tourists!
Vietnam was, once again, an exciting place to visit. HCMC (Saigon) has developed tremendously in the 3 years since we were last there. Most noticeably in the traffic, which now contains many more cars than it did, even if it is still predominantly motor cycles (up to 5 passengers per bike!). At this rate the city should be gridlock in the next 3-5 years I expect.

Didn’t do too much in HCMC as we had been there before – mostly just soaked up the vibrant atmosphere, and eat the lovely Vietnamese food of course (what a way to serve a fish).
The Mekong delta was very interesting. We had a guide to take us through – by van and by boat – what is another of the “rice bowls” of the world. Lots to see and once again evidence of a rapidly developing nations that seems to be moving too fast for itself even to keep up. Lovely people, and a very diverse economy. Here’s some of the story in pictures.
Lazing along the river – note the driver is using his foot.

Floating markets are still a feature. This is a wholesale market, starting at dawn. Small boats then take this produce into the tiny side rivers . The pole sticking up from the boat has things hanging on it – that’s what that boat has for sale.
– and this is the delivery process, plus us enjoying some of the produce.

Making stuff in the delta – first “pop-rice” (like crispies)

Here’s a brick factory in work with many kilns like this in operation. Bricks are stacked by hand in there – 1,000’s of them. Rice husks are used to fire the kiln – waste not, want not eh?

Interestingly there was some striking evidence of the current world crisis when we visited a rice processing factory. This place was a small operation where the owner puts rice through the machines for the local farmers to de-husk, polish, grade, bag, etc the rice. He takes a portion of the rice for his work, and sometimes buys rice crops to sell on, largely for export. Normally this factory, according to our guide, is very busy, and there is lots to see. When we arrived there was only the owner and his wife there and the factory was chock-full of bagged rice that he could not sell – due to the economic downturn! Who would have imagined that from about 6 months back when there was a world shortage of rice? He was quite philosophical about it, as he at least had rice to feed himself. The problem will come if it is still there a year from now as rice in sacks tends to rot after about a year. The other issue is the knock-on effect, of course, as farmers have no-where to take their rice for processing, even if they had anything to do with it once it was processed. So their income dries up, and someone else is living on just their own rice, plus a few handfuls they can sell on to other locals. What a mess. Even our guide was shocked.
Here’s the factory.

The exit from Vietnam to Cambodia was a small border crossing, for just boat passengers. It took 10 of us the best part of an hour to get Visa’s and to get processed through. One can’t hurry things in SE Asia.
Here’s a look at the border with Cambodia – that’s where it is all flooded – Cambodia being too poor to manage the flood plain . . . .

. . . . . . and a look at the border control hut . . .

Then a 3 hour boat ride to Phnom Penh – continued separately.

A quick trip to Korea

It’s almost 40 years since I was last in Korea, in 1969. I stayed only one night. It was an RAF training flight around Asia and we got there in the evening and left early next morning. All I remember is that there was a curfew after dark, and no-one except the patrolling military were alllowed on the streets: so we stayed in our hotel till we left to take off again the next morning. Hence I saw nothing of Korea then.

I spent 4 days there this time, but found it not really very interesting. Seoul must rate as one of the most boring cities I’ve ever visited – no redeeming features at all; not even an old quarter, or stunning temple, of any note.

I found this temple at the back of my hotel.

The food was “interesting”. Almost everything tastes like Kimchi (that spicy with chillies cabbage dish) – they use that sauce on everything (almost). They do eat sashimi, but they also have meat sashimi. I was served raw strips of beef (not good for me) and also raw calves liver!!! When I asked I was emphatically informed that they DO NOT have mad cow in Korea, and that theirs is the best beef in the world. Certainly they are big beef eaters. I only spent 3 nights there (got in late the first night) and was invited to 2 dinner banquets. The 2 meals were different; 1 was a Korean BBQ – which I do like actually (but it was same-same as any other I’ve tried elsewhere in the world) even if it did start with those raw meats; and the second was a royal cuisine banquet. The latter was REALLY nicely presented, even if 1/2 the food was odd (raw lobster and raw crab this time).

This was a tank outside a restaurant with fresh food in it!

They do have one uniquely Korean aspect at the dinners though. Like most Asian meals they like to drink a lot of liquor, in shots – bottoms up toasting each other. Well here they drain their glass then hand it over to you and the hander refills it for you to drink – it’s a respect thing. I was aghast – even in Asia I have not seen people sharing glasses (communal dishes, but not communal glasses). Thankfully I was not drinking the liquor (my op last year gets me out of those games) so I didn’t have to swap used glasses (they did offer me cleaned (shot) glasses with beer in, to include me in the hospitality).
This little garden I came across while I was walking around.

This was interesting – a Lady directing traffic into a mall parking area. Note she has a Mic on and her talking comes over outside loudspeakers. I thought the uniform was interesting.

Maybe next time I go I will find somewhere a little more interesting in the city, as I can’t believe it really could be that boring (reminded me of some mid west boring places in the US).

So having waited 40 years to come back it doesn’t seem like I missed much.

From dolphins to fire flies

Yesterday I was invited to a company day out with one of the companies that I work with.
About 50 of us altogether.
We visited Turtle Island first, and you can see why it is called that (first pic), then we went on to a farm that is set up for family days out.

Turtle Island is a nature reserve. Only 400 visitors per day are allowed there, and no-one lives on the island. It is a small, 3km by 2km, island 13km off the east coast of Taiwan, in the Pacific. It is one of a chain of active undersea volcanoes with this sulphur hot spring (next pic) outlet (stinks) of 110 degrees C water bubbling up from the ocean bed right by the nose of the turtle (poor thing).

The traditional story of the formation of the island is thet the Turtle General fell in love with the daughter of the Dragon Sea King. The King was so enraged with this that he turned the General into an Island. The saddened Princess then turned herself into the Lanyang Plain, which is the area of land beneath the mountains on Taiwan that look out towards Turtle Island. The two now spend eternity gazing at each other with love (aaaahhhh).
Before actually stepping onto the island we went past it, out into the pacific about 20km, for dolphin watching. Quite a treat as this is the first time I have ever done this.

The island visit was a bit restrictive, as only one small trail was open to the public, and there were quite a lot of visitor groups of about 50 people, so not as peaceful as I had expected. I just wandered behind our group mostly, taking pics. at one point I stopped to get a photo of a lizard. I stood still for a while, for it to get settled, then as I took it I moved to go on and a snake dashed alongside the path for a few feet about 4 or 5 feet from me. It was about 2 foot long – but I only got a quick glimpse of it as it rustled quickly back into the jungle. It was only later that I saw the signs on the visitor path saying “Beware of poisonous snakes”! I’m glad the snake appeared more scared of me at the time, and that I hadn’t seen this sign before.

After returning from the island we went on to a farm that is laid out for family fun (mostly for kids). Fishing with bamboo poles, a bamboo curtain maze, bamboo crane making, paper and painting crafts, and a tour of the farm where we could meet all the animals and hear about the farming of rice and vegetables. There was no english – but my friends, and their kids (practising english) helped me out.
2 highlights of the farm visit really stood out though.
They taught us how to build an oven from clay/mud in which to roast sweet potatoes. Below is a collage of pictures of us, and the kids, being shown how to build the fire, and of the kids, and a couple of our ladies, trying it out though not very successfully. Lower right is someone who actually succeeded.
What a smokey, dirty, business; but everyone had fun.

The day also incuded a BBQ supper, where our party had a whole spit roasted pig in addition to all the other traditional BBQ stuff. Here’s some of our crowd.

After supper, the final part of the day, and the secong highlight, was after dark when we were all led up the trail into the jungle where we visited with the fire flies. Many children were given torches to light our way (chaos, of course), and we went about 500m up the hill into the woods; over 100 of us in all I guess. About half way we started to see the odd fly, but not much. However, at the end of the trail it was really magic. 100’s of flies. They were clustered in various places in the trees, and it was just like being surrounded by Christmas lights. They were actually flying amongst us, and people were catching them in their hands. I found that you could put your hand close to the fly and start to move it around in the air with your hand. Fascinating.

What a fabulous end to a lovely relaxing day.

Odds and ends

Pension realization
Last year, while back in the UK, it finally hit home that I really am a pensioner now. I got my usual prescription from the Dr, and took it to the local pharmacy as always. When I went back to collect it and offered to pay I got a very polite “Oh no Mr Habberjam. You’re over 60 now and you don’t have to pay for prescriptions”.
I was going to argue with her, but . . . I didn’t –
after all. I am a Yorkshireman!

In a similar vein
Riding the subway in Taiwan is a very pleasant experience (and cheap too – 65p/$1.30 to get right across town). Even when it is crowded people are very polite, with no pushing and shoving, and very disciplined queuing. On board there are 2 pair of seats by each door that are designated as courtesy seats for the sick, infirm, elderly, people with small children and the pregnant, and very often, even if the train is full of standing passengers, these seats are left empty. Certainly when any of the designated “types” get on the occupant of such a seat, when not so categorized, will get up and offer the seat.
Imagine my surprise when someone offered me a seat like that?
Now I even use those seats occasionally; but only when there is no-one else older etc around and only if there are no other seats available.
I don’t care what they say, I don’t feel that old (except maybe after a night out!)

Protecting the Island
I don’t know why these things are piled all along parts of the coast. Maybe it is the Island’s defence in case the Chinese invade?

They would have no chance of landing here eh?

HSE alive and well in Tw
Recently I took the following picture in the conference room where I work. It was in the process of being renovated.

No Health and Safety Nazi’s around here.
It reminds me of the days when I used to wrap the wire round a match and use something to push into the earth pin socket to open the covers, and then use the covers to trap the matches in the socket.
Now I would probably go to prison for trying to burn down the building, or endangering the whole population’s lives, or some such thing.
Aah the good old days.



Here’s more on our trip to Vietnam.
I will not say much about Hanoi – we covered that 2 years ago. Just to say, it is getting increasingly dynamic as time passes now. Booming does not do it justice. One picture however, that captured Hanoi streets for me, is the following one of the bikes. Note the guy on the decorated pink push-bike. Neat what?
We went to Tam Coc as a day trip while in Hanoi, and that is covered in my previous “post”. We then moved on to HaLong bay. This is one of those areas that you see extensively in the tourist pictures/videos. It is everything they say. Somehow made increasingly mystical by the permanent fog in the area. We spent a night on a Junk in the bay; cruising round the bay and seeing the sights for one afternoon and one morning. There are LOTS of junks, so it is quite touristy/busy, but that does not really detract from the scenery. Neither does the permanent smell of engine exhaust from the junks, nor the oil slick that covers the water . . . .
The Junk was fabulous. A smaller version of the ones available we had a passenger list of only 12 people. A brilliant dinner of Vietnamese food, with 5 other couples, made for an intimate and very enjoyable evening. The only thing missing, given the atmosphere, was the murder (and of course Hercules somebody or other).

These are pics of the bay . . .

. . and the boat

Our boat was the one with the sails up in this picture, and the one in the pic after this.

Next we went to an Island called Cat Ba, which is also in Halong Bay. We spent 2 nights there, but it was very wet and cold, and after the Junk quite a disappointment. Ah well – on to the next part.
We then flew to Danang to visit a place called Hoi An. This is a very old town that somehow managed to escape the ravages of (what the Vietnamese call) the American war. Hoi An is a beautiful old town that has now been preserved, but is becoming increasingly tourist oriented (to be expected). There’s a lot to see here, and it is also very close to My Son, which is another of those areas in SE Asia with lots of temples and which we also visited (and is the region in which Mai Lai existed); as well as being right in the middle of Vietnam so is close to what was the DMZ and many other military/war memorabilia places (which we didn’t get into on this trip – too much else to see).
Here are some pictures of Hoi An.

The Japanese bridge, built by the Japanese obviously.

Below is the back garden of one of the temples.
This where a fisherman on the river lives with his family. He has a big net under the water out from his home (to the left looking at the pic) that is tied to 4 poles that he can wind up and down using a crank which is in front of his shack here. He winds it with his feet. Mostly he fishes at night when he hangs a fluorescent light above the middle of where the net is, to attract the fish. It’s fascinating to watch.

Below is a garden restaurant – note the lady in the hat and au Dai (traditional vietnamese dress). These Ladies look really elegant in their dresses, and the hat is just a fabulous finishing touch.

A street market scene. These Ladies aren’t selling too much, so they are playing cards – gambling actually.
This is another part of that same market, but showing the way the goods get transported in and out for the stalls.



We have just had a 9 day holiday in North Vietnam.
What a buzzing place this has become, even more so since our last visit 2 years ago.
This time we wanted to see more of the country, having seen only Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City the last 2 visits.
One particular example of the way the country is rushing forward was a day when we went on a day trip out of Hanoi to a tourist destination called “In-land Halong Bay” – actually named Tam Coc, which is a river through some stunning scenery that has these huge volcanic burps that form a valley and the tourists are rowed through the area by the locals.
The really interesting part though, was getting there. It was a 3 hour drive from Hanoi, but the first hour was like driving through a movie set of a war zone in Iraq or Afghanistan, or even Vietnam for those who remember the 70’s movies of that war. To get out of Hanoi via the main road (Highway 1) to the south entailed more pot holes and mud tracks than I have ever encountered outside of off-roading. In truth, this was all done weaving through the building sites that are the new overhead highway that is being built, but still . . .
Then once one is out of the city the road also has a character that is interesting. The following is an excerpt from a travel book that pretty well describes it.

Interesting eh?

Here’s some pictures of the place that we went to – Tam Coc.


Lantern Festival

New year celebrations over it’s now on to Lantern Festival for the next couple of weeks. A riot of colour in various places around the city and the island, and a time when you are likely tosee a flood of the sky-lanterns (4 foot columns of paper launched with a petrolium ring aflame in its base. Typically though the lanterns take on the shape of the astrological animal of the new ear – in this instance the Rat (bye bye piggy).

We visited the Sun Yat Sen centre on Saturday 16 Feb where the celebrations kicked off here in Taipei. Sun Yat Sen is a community centre very close to Taipei 101 (still the tallest completed building in the world – even if Dubai has now passed this height in construction) – seen above with the signature lantern which is a “Wedding of the Mice” ball where the story is in the jumble of all the stuff you can see (maybe) in the colour of the ball.

Of course, the first “rat”we came across was quite a famous character.

Out with the Pig,and in with the Rat,

– – – – and CleopRATra?

Lion and Dragon Dance rats – – – – – – – – – – – – and the OrchestRATra

Interesting eh?