Monday, August 31, 2009

Stupid Things I've done - Part 3 - Football Tournament (without applying suncream)

The Pre-Match Hype

So it all started on Monday. I get a text message from my student asking me if I could join his team for a 5 aside football tournament on Saturday. I thought why not so I signed and paid up. Later that day I asked my coworker if he was playing. He told me that he'd thought about getting a team together and lo and behold, on Tuesday he'd got a team together with many of these players being friends of mine. Game on! Needless to say that the rest of the week involved various pre-tournament predictions and come Friday, the buzz of excitement was immeasurable.

The Pre-Match Talk

So Saturday morning rolls up. It's 7:20am and I receive a text message from my student tell me to be at the venue by 8am to discuss our plan. However, this is all a little too serious, and more importantly, too early so I arrive at 8:30am via the corner shop and my favourite breakfast stop off. Armed with a couple of isotonic drinks, 2 doughnuts and some pizza bread I'm ready for combat. It's at precisely the moment I get off the motorbike that the banter starts with my coworkers. I had the feeling it was going to be an entertaining day! I was looking forward to playing against them, but there was one problem, we both had to win our first two games to get to the final....

The First Two Rounds

We had a very attacking side. I was up top, we had 5 attacking midfielders and a goal keeper. We actually played some good football. We flooded forward well and created numurous chances. In the first game we were playing against an inspired keeper who made a number of fantastic saves and somehow we found ourselves 0-2 down at half time. We couldn't understand how as we'd dominated the game. Fortunately the games were 15 minutes a half so we still had time to turn it around! And that's exactly what we did. 3-2 was the final score. How did the staff team do? They squeaked through on the same scoreline....

The second round was far more convincing for us, even if once again we were down at half time. This time our wasteful finishing was why we were losing. We also went down 0-1 after 14 seconds as our non existent defense was torn apart. However, in the second half we really did play some good football. Our skipper curled in a class goal into the top righthand corner from just outside the area to bring us back onto level terms, we were awarded a penalty immediately after a similar claim was rejected and I completed to victory by racing through there defense before slotting home with the left peg. 3-1. Of course the staff team won to bring us the final we all wanted!

The Final

If there was ever a great injustice in football I would like to see it. We dominated. How we didn't win in normal time I'll never know. We had the pace, fitness and played good attacking football. We must have created 3 or 4 clear cut chances and hit the wood work 3 times during the game. Their keeper was inspired! However once we took the lead in the 2nd half there heads dropped a little and then we had our chance. The game changed with a fantastic triple save. Our best player (in my opinion) Minh took a bobbling shot which Dan (the Keeper) fumbled, I drilled the rebound into his body (when I should've done better) and the follow up fell nicely into his hands. It was at this point I believe the footballing God had decided that we had just been too wasteful infront of goal. With the final whistle approaching, the inevitable happened. They literally had no shots on goal or clear cut chances the whole game. Everybody on the pitch was tired, and I watched from the touchline as an incredible one-two lead to Steve being one on one with our keeper. However, I'd failed to notice Simon to his left. Two on one. Steven squared the ball to Simon who slammed the ball home and with that, penalties ensued.

Penalties

Well the less said about this the better. We missed all three and they scored all three end of story. I was particularly disappointed as I missed our first and set the tone. I tamely planted it down the middle. I don't think I'll ever try to put it in the top centre of the goal again as I'm just not comfortable with that shot, but we live and learn as the expression goes!

The Aftermath

Well what do most British sports people do after a sports match? We go to the pub! The staff, and their trophy, and one loser (me) enjoyed a well earned pint and some tucker. Of course I took a lot of stick, which I thought I dealt with well, and was asked if I would be joining the staff team next time. The truth is they hadn't approached me and I would've played had a team been in the offing. However, I must admit I enjoyed playing against them and at least I can draw some consolation that my team did dominate the game. The old saving that football is a funny old game couldn't have been any more true!

So why was it one the stupidest things I've done?

Well for 2 reasons:

1) It's never a good idea to play against your work colleagues. There's always the chance you'll end up playing against them and that they will win. If they do win it will result in days of mocking and ridiculing! Fortunately I'm big enough and ugly enough to look after myself and I give it back as good as I've got, but having some of my students laughing at me because my coteacher was on the winning side is a little annoying I have to admit! (in a totally positive way!) Also, had we won, there are a lot more of them than there are me....do the maths!

2) I forgot to apply sun cream! We were out for 6 hours in the blazing sun. And Saturday was hot. No I mean it! And come the evening I was as red as the giant tomato man! (I'm sure he's a real person!!) On Sunday I couldn't move. In particular, the back of my knees were in serious pain and walking was difficult. How could I be so stupid?!?! Well one answer to that question is that I am indeed....stupid. The second answer is that when sport is involved, I rarely remember that I'm getting burned and that the sun is (apparently) so hot! Oh well! I have some amazing after sun location so all is not lost!

For any of the lads who may read this...I don't know which team I'll play for next time and I know that you are enjoying being the champions but if I am on the opposite side of the field....Game on!!!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Stupid Things I've done - Part 2 - Accounting Degree

At school, I achieved well. I got 4 A*s and 8 A's in my GSCEs. In my AS Levels I got 4 A's. Then it was time to apply to university. I was lucky because I wasn't really restricted in what I could apply to do, but some things were influenced by weird and strange events at school and government level which lead to my academic career taking a different path to what it might have done. So lets go down memory lane and see what happened...

Early Entry GCSEs - Age 15

At my school I was lucky enough to sit my some of my GSCEs one year early. For those of you new to the English education system, GCSEs are the public exam that we sit at 16 years old. At this time I was really into my Mathematics and Science and was planning on taking these as A Level (the equivalent to University entrance exams we take at 18). However, after the successful completion of my early entry, I (along with students in the same boat as me) we had a year of literally doing nothing in our science classes. Yes nothing! Ok, we had to go to class to learn about 1 page of A4 of new material over the course of a year some we could sit a pointless exam at exactly the same level as we'd already taken. Did we have any motivation? No. What is all a big waste of time? Yes. Did it kill any desire to study science I had? Yes. You see, at 15, I really liked Biology and Physics. I liked learning about living things and how they interact and adapt to conditions and changes. I like the real life mathematics in physics. But that year killed any enthusiasm I had for those subjects.

Why did we have a year 'off'?

Well, that's a combination of the government and the incompetence of the headteacher at our school. Our year was somewhat of a 'Guinea Pig' year. Lots of changes occurred. Ours was the first year where the SATS were compulsory at 11 years old. The A Level system was also changed from sitting one exam at the end of year two, to sitting exams at the end of each year. Because we took the early entry and the transition between the 2 systems, we couldn't study for the old A-Level or the new AS Level. This left the school with a choice between giving us 2 years to study for the new AS exam, which we all wanted to do because it would give us an advantage, we'd be learning new material and we'd get a free insight into the subject before we actually had to decide or to make us sit more GSCEs to make the school's results seem that much better. We the powers that be decided that the league tables were more important than the learning of the students so we went to class and did nothing but play cards.

Making the decision for Uni

After all that nonsense, I decided to study Maths, Economics and History at A-Levels. Whilst I enjoyed Maths, I liked it to be more related to real life. I also couldn't grasp all of the concepts 100% so I knew fairly early on that I wouldn't study pure mathematics at university. Where the decision lay was between business and history. A Levels were my first exposure to a business related subject. I was also lucky enough to have an excellent teacher and I loved it. I excelled in a couple of the exams and I developed a genuine interest in the economy, the decisions made by the treasury and global markets. However, the second year of A-Level saw our teacher moved on to be replaced with a far than adequate replacement. I think I learnt at this time that having a good teacher can inspire you, but having a dire teacher can really put you off a subject. The fruits of this turn out were borne out when I was selecting my course. Previously I was trying to decide between which type of economics to choose, but as the decision had to be made in the first term of the 2nd year of A-Level my attention switched to more general business related fields and to cut a boring story short, I chose Accounting and Finance.

Why do I regret the decision and regard it as a stupid thing to do?

Well, as pure subjects I really enjoyed studying History and Economics. I love learning about History as a hobby so I thought that I should leave it that way believing that studying may kill my love for it. Also, the only job I could think of was teaching if I took it at Uni at that didn't really appeal at that time. (Ironically I'm a teacher now....) Economics was killed for me by a poor teacher. Therefore I decided to try something new. The practical sounding nature of the course 'Accounting and Finance' appealed as it sounded job related. Did I think about the potential money of a job in finance? Yes. Did I think about how boring it would be to study? No.

The result

I had 3 years of boredom. I hated it. Well, the courses that were related to accounting and finance anyway! I had some fun studying law and general business. Anything that required me to write an essay or write a report I enjoyed. This actually surprised me as at school I never realised that I was good at writing essays or that I actually liked them more than mathematics. Bizarre. Isn't hindsight a wonderful thing! If I had my time again, I probably would've studied History and more than likely become a history teacher at secondary school. Studying Accounting was a complete mistake. I learned nothing from my course, I haven't found any of it useful and that time killed my desire to study. Funny how teachers can influence your decision making isn't it!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Inside the mind of a runner

9.58 seconds! Wow - that's pretty fast....I'm almost sure that Mr Bolt can run a 100 metres faster than I can down a pint and I'm no slouch! Whilst I'm no Asain or Paula Radcliffe, mainly because I'm slow, a little on the round side and can't run 26 miles, I want to share with you what goes through my mind when I'm running. There's the preparation for the run, the run itself and the postmortem after - largely because I'm knackered and want to collapse! Not to mention selecting the playlist on my iPod and choosing the distance and route I'll run.

What makes us do it?

Well for me, running is one of the only times of the day where I have complete control over what I'm doing. Due to the weather here in Vietnam, I have to run late to avoid the worst of the heat and humidity. That being said, I'm usually running at a heat of 30 degrees C, or 86 for the Americans, at 10-11pm which is the time I venture out. When I'm pounding the street I decide the speed I run at, the length of the run and how hard I'll push myself. On most occasions I run within myself. I run at a comfortable speed, occasionally increasing it should I feel like raising the tempo. As I'm not a competitive runner, the time doesn't really bother me. When I was running in Korea, there were organised events every weekend and I was always seeking to improve my time over 10km. In the future I hope to run a sub 50 minute 10k run which would be a great personal achievement. However, as there aren't any timed events in VN, I'm now running purely for the endorphin feel good factor at the end of the run! Also, there's nothing better than feeling physically exhausted after doing something that you know not many other people do in the temperatures and conditions out here.

Running is more than about weight control and fitness for me. Ever since I was young, I've loved sports. In my early teens I was very active and was involved in nearly of the sports teams at school. Invariably, when you get older you stop playing sports and the weight piles on. I'm not sure whether it's the competitive side, goal for constant improvement in performance or the camaraderie with other people but I've never felt more comfortable than I do in a team. Whilst playing in a team has great benefits, it can also be frustrating! As a cricketer, there's no worse feeling than scoring a 50 or ton but to go on and lose the game. You can perform well as an individual but if your team mates have a bad day at the office you'll lose. Conversely, in a team you can be lifted or have your deficiencies papered over by those if form. Running, however, is different as your alone.

Mind games

I usually run about 7km when I go out. I think this represents a good workout and is sometimes a challenge or comfortable distance depending on how well I've conditioned myself. As I'm most often alone, why do I not stop and walk when the going get tough? And what strategies do I use to keep going? Well, to answer the first question I'm stubborn. I hate stopping during a run. I see it as a failure. As my mindset is that it's wrong to stop it drives me on to run just that little bit further. I don't run to impress my friends and the only person I do it for is myself. Therefore the only person I need to justify stopping to is me. I'm a pretty tough judge on myself so I need to have a good reason for taking a breather!

When I feel really tired there are several things I try to keep placing one foot after the other. The first is playing with my ever faithful companion, my iPod. It common for me to feel really tired after 7km. During 10km runs, I tend to have a lull between 7km-9km before picking it up for the final push. At this time, I need upbeat songs to pick up my pace and my mindset. If you're anything like me, you'll have certain songs that always give you a lift, no matter what you're doing. I like to call these my 'power' songs. Unfortunately I can't tell you what these are but I'll tell you it's a sorry mix between boyband tunes, songs from a certain musical and (maybe surprisingly) Scandinavian metal. The next thing I do is to set myself small targets. For example, 'just run to the end of this song' or 'get to that set of traffic lights'. Finally, there's a point in every run where you know you can make it home regardless of how tired you are. I've found mine to be 1km from my target. When I get to that point of a run, suddenly my mentality changes. I know I can do it. Any questions of walking evapourate, and the heaviness in my legs lifts and I'm able to finish on a high.

What do you do when you can't be bothered to run?

I try to run 4 times a week. However, the heat can be draining in VN and as 10pm is pretty late in the day I often don't have the urge to go out. Therefore going for a run isn't always on the top of my list of priorities. That being said, I get an overpowering sense of guilt on weeks where I don't run. It's almost like an addiction. Smokers will tell you that they can't give up and they get a buzz everytime they draw from a cigarette. Well running is the same for me. I feel so good after a run that I want to go again! If I don't get the endorphin buzz for a while, my body craves it. The more runs I go on, the more I want to run! So if I can't be bothered to run, I just remember how good I usually feel after and that gives me the spur. Failing that I try to set a target or sign up for a run. If I sign up to do something, I'll generally take it seriously and as I hate failing I'll put the required effort into it. This fear of underachieving will then drive me to go for a jog, even if I don't have a particularly strong urge to do so.

Tips

A few final words. Not everyone enjoys running. However, I know a lot of people who like it but don't do it for whatever reason. I just want to get a few suggestions that may inspire (or put you off) digging out your trainers, slinging on some shorts and running a couple of kms.
  • Be realistic - On your first couple of runs, just run what you feel comfortable with. After that will understand what your current limitations are and you can start to build from there.

  • Do increase the distance you run too quickly. Maybe an increase of 500m a week if you want to increase it would be good. It all depends on what your goals are, but you needn't lengthen your route unnecessarily and you shouldn't expect to be able to complete a marathon after a couple of months. Remember running is a psychological sport and setting unrealistic goals will put you off it.

  • Choose a run that gives you options to extend or shorten it depending on how you feel. My current run is about 7km. However, I can easily turn it into a 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9km run should I be having a good or bad day. This can be psychologically beneficial as completing a 6km run without walking is better than finishing a 9km run when I've had to stop because I didn't feel great.

  • Try to make sure you eat and drink well throughout the day. It may sound obvious by I always run much better if I've taken onboard a lot of water and eaten a couple of decent meals in the day. Basic, but important.

  • I'm certainly not in great shape. When I started running I was pretty fat. A few people pointed and laughed at me as I trundled past them. However, I bet none of them do exercise as if they did they'd understand what you're doing. Don't let the fear of embarrassment stop you. Many people don't like going to the gym for that very reason and I find it sad where people are put off doing something they enjoy because of the prejudices of other people.
So now you have no excuses! For those of you in HCMC, there is a 5km run coming up in early September. Come and join me for a gentle jog! I promise you, you'll be hooked! Running with a crowd of a couple of thousand people is great fun and is a great way to start your running career as running alone can be difficult when you first go! Happy running!!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stupid Things I've done ... Part 1 - Bungee Jumping

So folks, you've had a bit about of culture, musings and descriptions of various aspects of life in Vietnam and South Korea. Now it's time to hear about some of the experiences I've had over the past 22 months, when I took the plunge and left my Trainee Financial Controller position in the UK. This will be the first installment of I don't know how many parts! However, I've done numerous stupid things over the last couple of years, so I'm hoping to make this a weekly, maybe monthly, feature on my blog. It just depends on how many more stupid things I do!!

When the decision was made


For those of you who don't know me well, drinking plays an essential part of my social life and often it entails more than the recommended dose specified by the NHS. I can't remember the exact time, but I think it was in the small wee hours on Saturday 4th October 2008, James and I felt that we hadn't achieved everything that we had wanted to in Korea. Something was missing. We had previously spoken about white water rafting and various other activities, but this would've been too difficult to organise at short notice! Then it struck us! Let's Bungee! At about 2a.m., fueled with enough beer and soju to propel a rocket into space, it seemed like a great idea! Game on, let's pen it in for Sunday afternoon.

The next morning


Having slept in an alcohol induced coma, I woke up on a much needed day off from the rigorous work schedule. This was indeed most unusual as I think it was one of the only Saturdays I hadn't worked in my entire year there! The idea of the previous night was completely forgotten. Or so I thought. I walked out in the living room, where I found James on his laptop grinning away like a Cheshire Cat. I started to get an ominous feeling....what had I agreed to last night? On his computer I saw what looked to be a tower, with a bungee cord and some man jumping off it! What's more, it was only about an hour from our house and we could make it there on the subway. 'Still on for jumping tomorrow?' my scarily active housemate asked. 'Sure' I replied trying not to portray any fear! Little did he know that I was planning on getting us so drunk in the evening that we would oversleep and feel so terrible that bungeeing wouldn't be an option the next day.....so what went wrong?

Sunday (Jump Day) Morning


Saturday night was fun! I can't remember now exactly what we did. But it was almost certainly in Hongdae, going out central in Seoul, and involved yet more Soju, Cass and Hite (awful Korean lagers for those not in the know!). I'm also guessing we went to our favourite club, the appalling named, Funky Funky or FF for short. This club is great for live music and there are usually some pretty good local and ex-pat bands performing. The atmosphere is also great and the prices are decent so it's always good for a night out! This was preconceived my plan, I stuck to it, we got drunk so where was the flaw in my plan?

Well that would be my stubborn housemate! At about midday he poked his head through the door: 'Ready to go in 10'. WHAT! And it was at this precise point that I realised I might actually have to do this. Trying not to show any weakness or lack of resolve to James so I threw some clothes on and prepared for the off. We both looked, felt and probably smelt like crap but we staggered our way to the bus stop. The bus ride entailed muted conversation due to the heavy heads and nervous anticipation. I think we were both having second and maybe even third thoughts about the whole malarkey, but I for one wasn't going to be the first to speak these thoughts! After the bus journey we had a 6 step walk to the subway station. At this juncture we were both hungry and darted into the convenience store to get a sandwich, ice cream and pepsi. Feeling a bit better we completed the subway trip and 2nd bus ride to Bundang Park where the jump was to take place. At this point we were talking excitedly about the leap and I almost convinced myself that I was actually looking forward to this folly.

Arrival at Bundang Park

We must have arrived at about 12:45. We walked through the car park, over the hill and saw this:


Hang on, look up:


Well it wasn't immediately in front of us, but this is the view from beneath the tower. 45metres may not sound high, but when you're stood on top of the platform I can assure you that it is! At this point I have to say 'I don't care' to those who have done higher! Anyways, we approached the booth - 'closed for lunch, please return at 1:30'. So that's exactly what we did.

After about 15 minutes we were standing in the lift taking us up to the top of the platform. James (in my opinion) was showing more outward nerves than I was at this point. He was also ruing the fact that I had won the right to jump first by winning Rock, Paper, Scissors on the bus earlier. We had to decide matters in this adult way as we both wanted to go first. Mainly because it would require less time standing on the platform and it would place enormous pressure on the other to jump. At the time that issue was resolved we also wrote our final requests on a napkin in case the worst should befall. Back to the point, the elevator (I'm only using an American word to show my range of vocabulary) reached the top with my housemate, 4 Koreans and I eagerly, or nauseously, waiting to jump from a perfectly safe steel structure.

The Platform - Jump Time!

This was the view from the top. Me being the gentleman that I am, offered J my privilege of jumping first. He couldn't have accepted any quicker! Whilst it was undoubtedly my kind nature that gave compelled me, I think it was more from the hope that he would bottle it, then even if I decided to pull out, I could take the piss out of him for backing out first! I also think his motive was to pile pressure on me and that I could take pictures of him jumping as proof, something that I regret not having! After waiting for the locals to jump, 1 of whom refused the count of 5 four times - kudos to her for that, it was the time of the westerners. J slowly edged his way to cusp of the platform. FIVE...FOUR...THREE...TWO - he jumped! AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!!!!! He threw his arms open and hurtled his way towards the lake. After what seemed like an age, but was actually 3 seconds, he bounced back up, not from the water, but safely from the harness and bungee cord. Oh bugger, now it's my turn I said out loud knowing there was no one there to hear me.

The final few seconds


To cut a short story shorter, I pretty much jumped on the count of 5. I didn't want to and all of my body apart from my legs was opposing the leap, but I couldn't not jump! I would never have been able to live with the shame, embarrassment and J's gloating had he been the only one to complete the feat! I was as stiff as a pencil as I fell and braced myself for the snap. I was getting closer and closer to the ground and still no tug. Ouch! It came, and I was surprised at how much it hurt. Pain went through my backside and lower back as the cord tensed and released. I was more prepared for the second bounce, but that still hurt given the magnitude of the torque from the first bounce! On the fifth bounce, the journey was over and I was lowered to the boat which took me back to land. Trying to stand up from the boat was a mission! My legs were shaking and my whole body was trebling. Not from fear, but sheer relief! The few seconds free falling towards certain death, were without doubt, the most terrifying of my life and I can't say that I'm desperate to do it again. I think only if I were with James, and we were drunk, and nearby a much bigger jump would the possibility arise, but that's not on the cards for now!

Final thoughts


I don't think I've ever told my ever influential former housemate exactly how close I was to not jumping, how scared I was before the leap of faith or that I never really wanted to do it. Sure, bungee jumping sounds fun but I much prefer watching other people do it, while I watch from the safety of earth. That being said, I'm glad that I can say I've done it! The adrenaline rush from jumping didn't wear off for days and I still get a bit shuddery just thinking about! But despite the things that could've gone wrong, I just have to say, I didn't bottle it, and on that occasion, J didn't get one - up on me!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mr Hendicott

One of my closest friends, James Hendicott, has just launched his new website. His writing covers a number of issues such as music, travel and various cultural issues. Take a look at his site and let him know what you think! I'm sure he'd greatly appreciate it!

www.hendicottwriting.com


Cheers!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I've found things to do!

About 6 weeks ago (I can't remember exactly when) I changed my facebook status to something like 'is there a more boring city than Saigon?!?!'. At that time I was unhappy with my work and feeling pretty negative towards life in Vietnam. However, as they say, time is a great healer and after a month my attitude has almost turned full circle and spending the foreseeable future here may not be completely out of the question or such a daunting prospect. Perhaps the title of this posting might be misleading, but I've been surprised how one aspect of my life changing has lead to me gaining a completely outlook on life here, and many of the things that I found boring before are leaving me a great sense of enjoyment and satisfaction!

Karaoke

This weekend has been a lot of fun! First, for those of you not familiar with the concept, karaoke in the East isn't the same as the embarrassing, drunken, attention seeking as 'Karaoke Night' at home. In fact, Karaoke in this part of the world is an essential part of any party. Here, people love to sing. I'm not sure why, but very few lads and ladies are embarrassed or nervous when it comes to performing in front of their friends. Maybe this is because there are specific Karaoke buildings with private rooms for one to prove they don't have the voice of an angel. These rooms can accommodate 20 people comfortably (probably more but you wouldn't want more) and you can sing, eat and drink your heart away! The more liquid lubrication you get, the better the night becomes! And on top of that, most Koreans and Vietnamese can sing pretty well! It might be because there songs generally don't use the same range that many English songs do, but I can't help but be impressed by them - especially after I humiliate myself trying to sing epics which are way out of my modest talent and capability.

Bars / Pubs / Street Drinking

Ok, there's a slight alcohol bias so far, but bare with me. After Karaoke on Friday, I headed to a pretty western style pub. On my arrival I was greeted to a rather depressing cricket score (I don't want to give the Aussies any satisfaction by stating the score) but nevertheless I enjoyed a few beers with my colleagues to celebrate the end of exams. It's was nice to let off a bit of steam after a challenging week of meeting deadlines, moderating and just the logistics of exams. It was my first time round, but I think I settled into my new role of marker and invigilator without too many problems so I could have a beer knowing that my mission was accomplished! It was also nice to talk to some people who actually knew something about cricket as most of my conversations recently have been trying to explain the rules of my beloved sport to the uneducated!

In VN, there are 3 types of places that you will find to relieve stress and unwind. First, there are western style bars. These are very much like home. The prices are also similar to home, which is a little annoying but they are usually very clean, comfortable and have several largish TVs which will generally be showing some 2nd rate movies on HBO or sport. (As a sports lover, I always hope it's the later!) The second venue can be found on the street. Street drinking, unlike the UK where I think it's illegal, is an important part of life in Vietnam. When you think of street drinking, you probably think of a rowdy bunch of teens, walking along the street, swigging a can of Stella. And that's what you'd find at home. However, here it involves sitting on ridiculously small and uncomfortable chairs, with an equally ridiculously low table. If you're lucky, the table might be covered by canopy of sorts. It may sound like your idea of luxury, but it does have its charms! The service is usually very good and fast. The food is always of a decent quality and the beer is drinkable unlike 'Cass' and 'Hite' in Korea. It's always a very social occasion and if you're lucky you'll see a couple of drunken man doing 20 paces at dawn. The third common water holes are restaurant/bars. I'm never totally sure what they're supposed to be. They always have an extensive menu which contains food from America to Europe to all parts of Asia but the establishments tend to attract people who want to have 5 or 6 beers. Again, the food is usually pretty tasty and the atmosphere is generally less rowdy than the street places.

Bowling / Cinema / Random Fun

I don't usually like hanging around arcades with stupid 'Shoot 'em up' video games, but completely unexpectedly I found myself at one on Saturday. And it was great fun! As it was my fiancee's birthday, I decided to take her to the cinema (among other things) to get out of the house. We went to a shopping centre that I believe to be the nicest in the city. While we were waiting for the film to start, we thought we'd waste some money playing some mindless, but entertaining games! To my amazement, it costs 70p for 10 plays! Bargain! It was nice being there with someone who hasn't been exposed to these places too often before as her face lit up and it rubbed off on me. We played 'Street Basketball' and she surprised me with how good she was at shooting hoops. In fact, we liked that game so much we must have played it about 7 times! Other highlights were the whacking 'strength test' where you bash a metal thing with a mallet and the time old favourite, air hockey! In the nearby vacinity, there is also a pool hall, screen golf and 10 pin bowling so it's a fun time every so often! It's also alcohol free fun - well if you want it to be!

Driving around the City


Or 'vong vong' as the natives would call it! This involves getting on your motorbike and just driving around. Ok, usually I hate driving around the city. There are too many bikes, with too many boy racers, Sunday drivers and rickshaws to avoid. The pollution and fumes at times are also intolerable. However, the other day when I was showing a new friend around the city we had an adventure. I have to tell you, it was really terrifying, fun, enlightening, educational and heart wretching all at the same time as you see how the poorest and most affluent of people live. The roads also went from skinny dirt tracks to rickity old bridges to nicely tarmacked and smooth roads. The houses from luxurious 2 bedroom apartments overlooking the river to nothing more than some bricks with a corrigated iron roof that is in danger of (and presumably not for the first time) being flooded by the same stretch of water. I will tell you more about this particular trip at another time when I have pictures which will start to pay some justice to the tale! Usually 'vong vong' just involves driving around the various parks and landmarks of the city. Most of the time, people occasionally stop to have a chat, grab a bite or go for a coffee before continuing on their merry way around the city.

Running and football

To my amazement, I received an email today about an organised 5km run! It's the first I've heard about and I must say that I'm really excited about it! I hope that if this one is a success that they will organise more runs in the future which will give me something to look forward to! Also, although there's little in the way of organised football, one of my students introduced me to his friends and the little league that they've organised themselves. I played with them for the first time yesterday and I ache in areas that I didn't realise were part of the footy process, but such is life! I was just nice to stretch my legs. We played on artificial pitches, of pretty decent quality, and the standard of play was also good!

So all in all
I've had a complete change of heart. It all stems from being much happier in my work and now having a schedule that allows me to plan around it. I now run about 3 times a week with the option of also playing football on Sunday evenings! If my housemates and I are bored, we can go bowling, to play screen golf or go street drinking. On reflection, HCMC isn't so bad...