Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A tribute to sweet food

Now, who can deny the wondrous power of sugar? Who can tell me that you can have a perfectly good meal without it? Well, after reading this, if you can successfully argue against me, I'll buy you a custard donut! Whilst this is meant in jest, and there's a history of diabetes later in life in my family, I love all sweet food and can't bare to imagine a day when I'm not allowed to tuck into a sugary treat! When I feel low, I eat ice cream or cake. If I have no energy and feel tired on a night out, there's Jagerbombs. When the I get hit with a cold, sweet tea soon brings my spirits up! Therefore, let me tell you about my life long addiction to sugar, in all its glorious forms.

I can't pinpoint when my love affair started, you'd have to ask my mum about this. And if she's reading, if she could offer any insight I'd greatly appreciate it. My earliest memories are of frequent trips to the cake shop which was about a 2 minute walk from the flat we used to live in. I recall that Belgium buns were a particular favourite of mine. Whether it was sickly icing or the glacier cherry on top I can't work out, but my mouth is watering right now just thinking about them! Now, at this time my mum was a prolific baker (okay, perhaps I'm bending the truth a little but it was a while back so I can't clearly remember) and sweets were her specialty with biscuits, scones and buns with jam in the middle coming fresh out the oven most frequently!

Following this early induction into the world of cake, I discovered tea. Now, whilst tea is a touch on the bitter side, biscuits soon sorted that problem out! Custard creams, digestives, bourbons, short bread and chocolate hobnobs to name but a few! Early memories involve me dipping digestives into my tea for a fraction too long, and having to scoop out the debris with a spoon. However, custard creams will always be my favourite, and I happily eat a packet at a time, similarly to how others eat crisps!
The next phase in the sweet food relationship started when I started earning as I could start to regularly visit Monica's Patisserie. Now, if you worked there, you probably hate cakes in all their variety, but for an indulger, it was like heaven. Cream cakes, pastries, cookies and buns in all shapes and sizes. In sixth form (grade 12 and 13 for those not in the know) I took daily visits to the cake shop and would often eat 3 cakes for lunch (this may explain my belly) with caramel chocolate shortbread and paradise slices being my favourites.

These of course would be washed down with sugary goodness in carbonated drinks and hot chocolate! And sod's law being as it is, I have never had any fillings or problems with my teeth!!



Afterthoughts

Other desserts that tickle my taste buds are trifle, apple pie/crumble and custard, cheesecake, banoffee pie, pancakes, Christmas and wedding cakes to name but a few. However, what meal is complete without sugary goodness? Curry goes hand in hand with peshwari naan bread, a Sunday roast needs pudding and custard, afternoon supper requires biscuits and a bacon sandwich in the morning comes with a tea and 2 sugars. Now, I'm off to put the kettle on and have some banana bread.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Things I hate about VN - Footpaths

The UK

Sidewalks, pavements, footpaths or whatever you like to call them, should have one thing in common. Namely, that it's safe for those traveling by foot, pedestrians to you and I, to walk on them. In England, almost every road has an accompanying pavement. Here I can walk to my friend's house, local corner shop or to the train station with my music at full volume not having to worry about motorised vehicles. Sure there is the odd skateboard, bicycle and buggy to worry about but they are hardly life threatening.

Vietnam

In Vietnam things are a little different and, as a result, I seldom walk anywhere now due to the lack of footpaths, their terrible quality and the sheer fact they are seen as merely an extension of the road!

To start, most major roads have a sidewalk of some description. However, they are mainly narrow and full of obstacles. Perhaps these are to make traveling on foot more exciting but it's just annoying. Firstly, motorbikes are generally parked in front of the stores. Due to the tiny nature of the pavements, pedestrians are forced onto the roads which are generally teeming with traffic. Secondly, food or drink outlets often litter the side of the road so the unsuspecting walker has to shalom in and out of plastic chairs and stools to avoid playing 'chicken' with the motorbikes. Finally, the paths are generally seen as an after thought. No real consideration is taken for pedestrians. Most people in VN travel by motorbike. Whether this is to avoid prolonged periods in the heat, habit or fear of walking I'm not sure. But what I do know is that the sidewalks are not designed to be walked on. They aren't smooth so people regularly stumble, the drains are largely exposed so vermin can be seen everywhere and the poor drainage system means any period of rain deems them useless.

However, most annoyingly, motorbikes can often be seen mounting the curb to use the pavements as a shortcut! I'm not sure if it's illegal but it's mighty dangerous. The thing is, it's not just young boyracers, it's full families on one bike, old women and delivery guys. In short, everyone's at it! If you're walking, you're beeped at for getting in the way! They don't even slow down. You would think that some consideration would be shown for pedestrians as presumably they know what they're doing is probably illegal, but also really dangerous! But alas, this moral conscious is often lacking as people just want to get to one place to another as quickly as possible.

Maybe I'm being a little unfair, but I used to love walking from place to place. Plugging in my iPod and going for a run around town was a past pleasure of mine. To do that here I have to take a significant risk as footpaths, the home of human powered transport, is merely an extension of road in VN. Please Saigon, keep the pavements the home of pedestrians!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Golf Weekend in Mui Ne

Last weekend, a group of 8 lads descended upon the unsuspecting town of Phan Thiet. Our mission was to complete 27 holes of golf, have giggles and maybe sink one or two beers. So, how did it all go?

The bus journey there

At 5:30 on Friday, Danny and I finished work, filed our paperwork and left for Phu My Hung. I parked up my motorbike and we joined the rest of the lads who were waiting for us at a cafe/bar. At 6:30 our mini bus arrived, we collected 8 pizzas and I went to the off-license and emptied their beer fridge for the journey. We were all set to go!

The bus was ample size, surprising as most of my experiences in Vietnamese transport has been cramped, uncomfortable and claustrophobic. In addition, the driver was ace. He overtook at any given opportunity, and not in a scary way as is customary here. At one point I think he even outdid a Porsche Carrera, although I could be wrong as my knowledge of cars is pretty minimal.

However, the highlight was the company. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard. Everyone, some more than others, was the butt of one or two jokes and I think the only time there was silence was when we were eating! Some other points worth mentioning were DJ Jobe's tunes which entertained us in the second half of the trip and the frequency of 'pit stops' for those with weaker bladders who shall remain nameless for now! To quote Danny, 'He's no camel!'

The golf

I don't really care too much for golf. It's long, frustrating and to top it off, I'm just no good at it! I try to play it with a cricket stance and swing and I don't hard the ball very far. Add this to the fact I was playing with 6 relatively competent golfer meant my patience would be severely tested due to my competitive nature. How long would I hold out? 8 holes to be precise.

It all started so well. I got up early enough for breakfast and filled my face with a 4 course breakfast. I had an English breakfast followed by Coco pops! Next came the fruit course proceeded by pastries. Needless to say I had as much tea as they would serve me and I was good to go. I wondered down to the range with Carl and Kevin and hit a few balls. On the previous Wednesday we had gone down to the driving range and I had hit the ball pretty sweetly so I was a touch concerned when I could barely lift the ball from the mat! Regardless, after hitting about 20 balls, I made my way to the first tee.

The first 4 holes

Before I start talking about the golf, the course is stunning. Ocean Dunes is by far the most picturesque place I've ever played golf at. It's a challenging course offering plenty of opportunities to lose balls. As commented by Dan Malone 'we took those opportunities'. I've posted a few pictures throughout this entry, partly to stop you getting too bored of my musings, but also to wet any golf lovers appetites who think this might be up their street. Yes Dad, I'm talking to you!

The first four went so well. I hit a few crappy shots, but on the 3rd and 4th I scored boogies which I was really happy with. I played a few good shots off the tee, so irons went a reasonable distance and my chipping when putting me within range of holeable putts. Feeling pretty happy with myself, I sat down at the drinks stop think that this golf malarkey isn't that hard and that I was going to enjoy the next few hours....

Toys out the pram time

The fifth is where it went downhill. It was my honour off the tee for the 2nd time and until then I'd hit my tee shots pretty cleanly, but more importantly accurately down the fairway. 3 iron out of the bag, swing, water on the right. Opps. After Kevin and Carl had followed suit, it was up to Danny to save us the embarrassment of all four of us hitting the water hazard. He swung and immediately it looked great. It was going along way....in the air and dangerously close to the water. After an eternity....plop!

So, I decided to take another tee shot and put it back in the water. Bugger. But at this point I hadn't lost my cool. It was just one bad tee shot and I'd soon snap out of it. However, after taking a drop onto the fairway, I found the water again! 3 times in 3 shots! I couldn't believe it. I think this was the first time I uttered 'I hate this f***ing sport!'. Anyhows, damaged done I took a gentleman's 10 and moved onto the sixth. The tee shot barely left the ground and traveled about 10 yards into the fresh sand/soil in front of me. Hmmm. Taking more shots to get onto the fairway I could feel my blood pressure starting to rise. However, I played out the remainder of the hole hitting some decent shots.

By this point my partners had shaken off their hangovers and rustiness and had started hitting big drives, crisp irons and some decent chips. This added to my woes got at me a bit as I hate being that much worse than other people at sports. So at the 7th and 8th when I messed up off the tee again the toys come out. Once on the fairway I took the putter out of the bag, pushed the ball about 50 yards down the carpet, picked up the ball and threw it in the lake. Game over.

As we had hired clubs, I was getting more down on myself and I wanted to wrap my clubs around a tree I think I made the best call. Therefore I took on the role of photographer.

The back 9 and highlights

On the back 9 I made sure I took photos and videos of everyone playing. Fortunately I managed to take some decent footage and I'm pretty impressed with the quality considering my camera isn't particularly flashy. At this point the other pair had decide to follow Malone and Jobe's lead by hiring golf buggies. We already had caddies, but to speed up play (please consider the heat and humidity factor in VN) they thought 4 wheels would allow us to get more holes in. Some of the highlights of the golf were Danny's birdie at the 9th and Matt Cowan hitting a gorgeous approach into the 13th green after modestly telling me, on camera, that's exactly what he was going to do spring to mind but some cracking shots along with some average strokes were seen. Big Kevin won the 18 so congratulations to the big hitting American!

Texas Scramble

The 18 must have finished at about 2:30. By then I decided I wanted to play again. As we had unlimited golf for the day, I thought I should at least attempt the back 9. For those of you who don't know Texas Scramble (as I didn't) it works as follows. You play in a team. Each of you plays a shot from the same point. You choose the best ball and each of you plays from that point. Each person must hit a predetermined number of drives. I was paired was Big K for obvious reasons. We choose to play to back 9 again and each partner had to use at least 3 of their drives.

As the pressure was off my from the tee, I played much better. I hit some decent tee shots, reasonable approaches but the best aspect of my game was my touch around the greens. I can't hit the ball a long way, but I have a pretty decent judgement of pace and weight around the putting surface. Our partnership was probably the best fit of the 7 of us playing. Kevin can hit very long, allowing me the opportunity to attack the pin with my short game. This was nice as usually I don't get the chance to try to make par or birdies as my tee shots and irons aren't big enough. Therefore I had a lot of fun in this format. Kev and I hit 5 over for 9 and the other pair and trio hit very good back 9s, though I can't remember their tallies.

Off to Mui Ne

At about 6 we had wrapped up the golf. The rain had set in and we were just thankful we could complete our game as on the 15th we could see ominous lightning strikes in the distance. After settling our finances, we went to Mui Ne to find our accommodation, have a shower and get changed from our rather smelly golfing attire! From the hotel we went to the Sailing Club to enjoy some of the best food I've had in VN. It comes a very close
second to Louisiana in Nha Trang. Then we went to see the best of Mui Ne's nightlife including Wax and DJ Station where Pete Harrold, the worlds best dressed non-golfing golfer owned the dance floor.

Home

The trip home was pretty uneventful. The traffic wasn't too bad but it still took us much longer getting back as it did getting there. The conversation had moments of brilliance but as most of us were shattered from the golf or hungover from the night before we were somewhat muted. I could go on for hours about what happened, but needless to say it was up there on the best weekends I've had in VN. A big thanks must go out to Big Carl Day for organising an event that I'm sure will live long in the memory!