Waiting for the typhoon

A T8 typhoon was declared this morning, but there was nothing but spotty rain until ten minutes before we needed to get a taxi to the station, at which point it began sheeting it down and apparently all the taxis dissolved. We jumped my suitcase down the hill to Queens Road, where my wife narrowly avoided being run down by a charging taxi appearing out of the mist like an mythical creature, before stopping a second one who drove us with great ferocity and precision to the station in Central, where we could check in for our flight and then narrowly misses being able to get a burger in the shopping centre above us.
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Another weakened weekend in Hong Kong

We got in late on Friday and had a couple of beers, and so on Saturday I revelled in the fact that I could sleep in past 9am, uninterrupted by children clambering into bed to demand cuddles/poke me in the eye with their diminutive fists. Hong Kong had been in the grip of a heatwave (33° temperatures) but that broke earlier this week and now it was overcast and rainy.

Of course, nobody adjusts their air con settings in light of this, so the dim sum joint we went to in Wan Chai was absolutely baltic, and no matter how much tea you drink you’re still shivering. I ate deep fried tofu, rice, and not much else, and after a few hours stumbled back out to the street.

The street in question, Hennessy Road, has a strange combination of bathroom furniture shops, 7-11s, upmarket restaurants, down-market restaurants, offices, bars full of hookers and bars for men to get alcoholically lubricated in before they hit the hooker bars. Oh, and some coffee shops.
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Well that didn’t start well

This afternoon we fly to Hong Kong, so I left the office at 1, waited for my wife to arrive in a taxi, then hightailed it to the airport. I was super stressed (nothing but a surfeit or emails, but even so my head wasn’t in a holiday mode) and then checking in seemed to be the most incompetently Kafkaesque manoeuvre I’ve ever known. There’s a document check where they don’t check your documents, there’s a demand that you don’t print out both your boarding passes on one sheet of paper (because security hates trees, I guess) and then when we got to the gate, a highly advanced scanning device checked our boarding passes and then made an angry noise because they hadn’t been rubber stamped. Continue reading “Well that didn’t start well”

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.

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.
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Straight to bed

La Serpiente made a stalwart effort to stay awake for the entire flight watching Paw Patrol episodes, but by 1am local time she was faltering and soon after she fell asleep, first sitting upright with her head looking around, then lying in my lap, then standing in the aisle with her head on my lap, then needing to be cuddled, and on and on until she woke about an hour before we landed, and ate dry cereal while I finished the Lego Batman Movie.

I got some sleep – at least five or six hours, and I got to watch the hilariously violent Logan, and the part of the Lego Batman Movie I missed on the flight out. So good for all of us there.
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Going home again

All the way to Heathrow, I had a nagging feeling that we were going on the wrong day, and we’d arrive at the airport to find either that we were a day early or a day late. We rented our car from the Sixt over the road from Hatton Cross tube station, and when we eventually got there (after a series of u-turns, no left turns and a helpful man winding down his window to yell at us that the A30 was a total mess) we found out the shuttle doesn’t run from the rental office to Terminal 5, and we couldn’t face schlepping four suitcases and innumerable bags across the airport.

Instead, we drove to Sixt’s office on Terminal 5, in the Sofitel, or rather we drove around the airport perimeter a few times, getting honked at by irate drivers, getting lost and confused, and more and more worried. Well, I worried. After all this, were we about to find we needed to check into a hotel for the night?
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