Making up for lost time

I spent most of today at the office, which was hardly a good way to compensate my children for my absence on Thursday and Friday. I got home about 3:30 and took them for ice cream, and then to buy a new lightbulb for the kitchen, and if that wasn’t enough frolicking, we went to the exercise area at the bottom of our building and I threw them in the air until my arms were sore.

In the evening we went over to Satay By The Bay, a hawker centre full of smoke and heat, and although I had a cheese sandwich with me (there being nothing much I wanted to, or could, eat) I was not best suited to the environment. I took the girls to rush around on their scooters; Destroyer decided to run, and slipped, and skinned her knee, so there was drastic complaint from her until I returned her to her mother and she was bandaged up.

Her sister, meanwhile, continued to zoom around on her scooter without a care in the world. This isn’t so great as there’s all sorts of wannabe Lance Armstrong types riding bicycles as fast as they can near the Marina Bay Barrage, and none of whom looking like they’re looking out for small children. But no collisions tonight, for which we must be thankful.

It’s the first night of the lanterns so lots of the Gardens By The Bay were illuminated. We spent some happy time looking at a glowing frog, and then some unhappy time trying to get a taxi home, and then both kids screeched for a while and then went to sleep, way past their bedtimes. And so, on to tomorrow.

Still figuring things out

Two days later, I’m still none the wiser as to what Vietnam is. That’s partly a function of being cooped up in a hotel room or an office since I got here, my only sights of the country the occasional glances through a the windows of taxis at the outside world.

I went to a meeting today in an office block far from the centre of Ho Chi Minh City. Along the way, I saw a squad of men in military attire strolling down the street, the threat dissipated by them all wearing flip flops. How can you be scared of somebody in shoes less substantial than Crocs?

A man on a moped went past us. Cigarette hanging from his mouth, one hand on a bunch of orchids, wrapped in plastic. There’s something romantic about that, a lone, nicotine-enhanced bringer of floral happiness, buzzing down the street on a knackered Honda.

Doreamon gets everywhere. Another scooter went past, with a small child sandwiched between granddad on the front and grandma on the back. All that was visible of the youngster was an arm, a leg, a pink Doreamon helmet.

So what is Vietnam? Too many people exceeding the occupancy limits for mopeds? Isn’t that Indonesia?

The Porsche Saigon dealership is next to a BMW franchise, and both of them stand, shiny temples to German engineering, on the corner of a scruffy street not far from a patch of boggy grass. It doesn’t feel quite right to have Porsches in Vietnam. Who’s driving them? Wouldn’t it be more picturesque if *everyone* rode a scooter, wives and girlfriends elegantly sidesaddle, men up front smoking away?

No, didn’t think so.

The office was next to a mall that was an exact simulacrum of the Vivocity mall in Singapore. There was even an event promoting Singapore, a man with a microphone yelling against a backdrop emblazoned "Singapore: Passion Made Possible". I did what the locals do: I ignored it and went to Starbucks.

After the meeting, with nothing to do, I went back to the airport, couldn’t get an early flight home, spent six hours sitting around doing nothing, getting gradually more unhappy. I miss my wife, I miss my kids, I don’t want to be in an airport any longer.

Vietnam is much more than my bad planning. Maybe I’ll come back soon and figure it out.

Bad Science

At the airport bookshop yesterday, I bought a copy of Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, which I then devoured between Singapore and Vietnam, pausing to have dinner, and then finishing in the early hours of this morning when sleep wouldn’t come.

Ben Goldacre is a doctor who also wrote extensively for The Guardian, debunking various examples of quackery and also focussing on things like the MMR hoax. The book starts off with some fun, lighthearted stuff about detox remedies and footbaths that appear to soak bad things out of your feet, but don’t really do anything at all, and gradually becomes more serious as he examines homeopathy, bad medical trials, and culminating in utterly depressing things like the South African government’s opposition to retrovirals (which led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths, because somebody thought orange juice would cure AIDS).
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First night in Vietnam

This is the second country I’ve visited for the first time this year (I thought I hadn’t been anywhere new for ages, but that was because I forgot about Portugal…)

Flying in to Ho Chi Minh City, the first thing that struck me was how flat things were: I’m too used to the mountains of Hong Kong or the skyscrapers of Singapore. The airport itself is shiny and new, although it was somehow disconcerting not to need a landing card to get through Customs.
Continue reading “First night in Vietnam”


I think because it’s Hungry Ghost Festival, they’re burning lots of things around where we live. Rusty old oil barrels appeared some time ago around the estate, and people stick mounds of paper into them and then set them on fire. There’s also impromptu burnings of paper on some of the walkways (there always seems to be a little fire outside the junk shop over the way from us) and the other day there was a structure of some sort blocking the entire pavement down from Singapore General Hospital, where there were some candles aglow.

I assume that’s why there was a fog of grey smoke downstairs when I got home tonight. The irony of complaining about the pollution from the burning season in Indonesia, when there’s a homegrown incendiary event every year, seems a little rich, but perhaps you just write it off as one of those strange things; different people have different views on what’s acceptable behaviour and what strikes one person as correct and proper might seem the opposite to another, but if you don’t like it, you can go upstairs and shut your windows. I’d note that in Hong Kong a few years ago, some enterprising soul came up with virtual burnt offerings, which enabled you to provide for your ancestors and not pollute the air. Given Singapore’s famed tidiness, the strange thing is that such a scheme hasn’t been replicated here.

Anyway, either some other polluting event has coincided with this, or I’m reacting particularly badly to it, but when I’ve run recently, I’ve had a burning feeling in my throat that’s not too pleasant. I’ve also strained my back by inexpertly picking up La Serpiente yesterday, and I was tired and didn’t really fancy my run this evening, so this confluence of things gave me an excuse to cop out.

Instead, as I’m travelling tomorrow, I packed (a very small piece of luggage, or a large backpack, depending on your perspective) and then spent three hours working on tidying up some data, which was less than the most thrilling way to spend an evening with my wife. Maybe I should have gone out running after all.

Tired and sore

What I don’t understand is that the day after a long hard run through a humid jungle, what hurts most are my arms, not my legs. Hurts? Hurt? I’m tired and sore and not capable of figuring out the correct way to conjugate verbs…

It rained for most of the day; again, this tropical island turned grey and cold. When I got home, bent out of shape, all I wanted to do was to lie on the sofa and sleep, but my daughters kept coming over to shout at me.

Later, I took them down to the bank to get out some cash for my wife, as she doesn’t have a working card at the moment. I discovered that La Serpiente believes she has a bank account number (010045607) which she constantly recited, in between weeping with her own exhaustion. Well, it was 7:30 and she’d had no nap.

The good thing about that was she went to sleep quickly, letting me get out for my evening run. That was a long slow slog, after which I came back, and then La Serpiente woke up, walking out to our room and then asking, possibly still asleep, for me to turn her pillow over and plump it up. Ah, what a wonderfully specific child we have.

We also threw away an entire IKEA reusable bag’s worth of paper, accumulated art from the last year of La Serpiente’s machinations. I hope when she awakes she doesn’t miss them.

Apresdeluvian run

I went to MacRitchie Reservoir for a run today. It was an easy choice; the Formula One race means any running route near Marina Bay is needlessly complicated, running to Mount Faber would be horrendously boring, and although MacRitchie is hilly and humid, it’s also fun to be running down a rocky path where you’re not entirely in control.

I was too tired to run it this morning, and it would have been impossible at night as they lock a gate at one end, making it really difficult to do a proper loop, and it would be in the dark with a bunch of angry monkeys, and I’d never sneak out after bedtime anyway, so I left at 4.

Just as a huge rainstorm came in. The sort where it gets cold in Singapore, and where you can’t see much further than the windscreen of the car you’re in. So hurtling to MacRitchie was rather fun.

I arrived, the rain stopped, everything was lovely. Perhaps this was a sign that the general shittiness of the weekend to date had now abated.

The run itself was quite tough. I was keeping my pace slow as I can do MacRitchie in an hour, but then I’m ruined, so I did my first lap in just over an hour, then discovered that although it’s a reservoir, water is hard to come by, and either dehydration or tired legs made a mess of the second hour for me. I did have my Camelbak with me, but the water bladder had some suspiciously old water in it, so I’d left that at home.

I did have the My Dad Wrote A Porno podcast to listen to, which is a great solace while running, but maybe not good for overall performance. Still, it kept me going, fnar fnar.

Finishing, I got a taxi home, legs well and truly wrecked (the rough ground plays hell with everything below the knee), but I had been smart enough to pack a change of clothes with me, so I didn’t stink the vehicle up. I looked a state though: tight t-shirt and baggy shorts are something for a Spice Girl twenty years ago, not a middle-aged man today.

Then, as penance, I had to sit on Destroyer’s floor to get her to sleep, when getting up from the floor with knackered legs is a matter of hilarity and idiotic pain. And so to bed.