Anniversaries and birthdays tend to remind me to consider my mortality. It teaches me to number my days and savour the moments. Do you feel this way too?
I spent my last 7 years being a stay home dad, homeschool teacher and entrepreneur. I have had a lot more time with my wife and children compared to most people. But it still feels like the time flashed by. The babies I carried in my arms are now running around, talking back and will probably be off to college before I know it.
The studio shoot
The best way to keep memories in my opinion is to photograph and write about them. It is ironic that as a photographer, the last thing that I'd do is pay someone to take photographs of me and edit them. It is like an occupational hazard. Well, that's where you need a better half. Debra was the one who suggested taking studio photos and I reluctantly agreed.
The photos turned out really nice although the process of taking them were rather exhausting. If we got paid for asking Gwyn to look at the Camera, we'd be rich by now. She even put up a strike nearing the end of the shoot. Nothing some Haribo gummy bribe couldn't do....
The whole cost including the clothes, make up, studio and photographer was about 2 million Dong ($118 SGD). This would have cost us $500 bucks in Singapore...
When we got back to the hotel, we flipped through our iPhoto albums to compare the pictures for fun. Oh, we laughed till our tummies hurt. Unlike most people who accumulate wealth, we accumulated fats, white hair and wrinkles. haha!
If you missed out on our epic 10 year journey story, read it here!
Our time in Saigon
We didn't do very much in Saigon. We visited Saigon Central Post Office and had the intention to visit the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon but it is currently being refurbished. We also took the Saigon River bus to catch a glimpse of the Landmark 81 building (2nd tallest in South East Asia).
Saigon (Ho Chi Minh city) is really the up and coming economic power in South East Asia. The amount of foreign direct investments is very apparent when you travel through the city. In fact, Singapore is the biggest foreign direct investor in Vietnam. You'll find tall buildings occupied by Keppel and Mapletree. There is even a mall in town that is named Vivocity. You'll also find NTUC Fairprice's joint venture supermarkets and Cheers convenience shops across the city. We were surprised to find that the bread wrapped ice-cream/ice-cream wafer got exported there too!
It is a HUGE contrast to what you'll find in Hanoi and other smaller cities. The subway system in Saigon is also near completion.
We are spoilt Singaporeans
We've enjoyed a good 6 weeks being in Vietnam seeing the most epic mountains, learning about the cultural heritage of the tribes, understand the war from the Vietnamese perspective and savouring some tasty Vietnamese dishes. But to be very honest, we are starting feel a little weary. There are things we just cannot get used to.
We are in no way criticising the Vietnamese and their way of life. It is just not something we are comfortable living with. Our biggest struggle as a family is the food in Vietnam. I know of people who absolutely enjoy the Vietnamese cuisine. We do like a few dishes ourselves. But we are so SPOILT by the wide (and VERY affordable) selection in Singapore and Malaysia. We also miss the taste of spice in our food.
You can eat at a local eatery like this and have a Bahn Mi (Baguette sandwich) for a low as 15,000 Dong (0.88 SGD). You can also get a range of dishes and rice and a family meal will cost between 150,000 to 250,000 Dong. (9-15SGD). There are however many flavours and smells that we find very strange.
We spent almost an entire month in a mountain station town called Sapa. Eateries sold mainly local food. Even the local cup noodles were odd to us. We ate most of our meals at this restaurant called Ladybird restaurant. They sold a mix of western and asian dishes that tasted more familiar. But an average meal for the family here would easily cost 500,000 to 600,000 Dong (29-35 SGD). We were so grateful to have found this place in Sapa!
When we left the small town for the sprawling metropolis in Saigon, we found more food we are familiar with. But they can cost MORE than you'll pay in Singapore/Malaysia.
Another thing that we are very uncomfortable with is the noise in Vietnam. The very loud talking (sounds like yelling to us) all across Vietnam is something we never got used to. In hotels that more locals visit, you'll often be woken up by locals who all seem to be early risers. They would yell across the corridor to speak with their friends or family in another room at 5am in the morning.
We had to move hotel because we just got so sick of being woken up by yelling. The hotel breakfast was catered more to the local tastebuds too.
Although we are no longer startled by the incessant honking, it is still something we can't drone out and ignore. A good number of people have little concept of personal space (especially the older folks) and queue cutting is also something we find unpleasant.
Since it was our 10th Anniversary weekend, we took the opportunity to celebrate it at our favourite brand of hotels. We've been to Sofitel Heathrow, KL Damansara and now Sofitel Saigon Plaza. Guaranteed an awesome bed, a comfortable room and a great breakfast.
Gwyneth REJOICED when she found cereal and milk again at a hotel breakfast buffet. We took it for granted that it will always be possible to go to a local supermarket and find breakfast cereal, we were so wrong. The more local supermarkets in less touristy areas often don't carry cereals. Those that do sell them at a premium.
We still think that Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) is a great place to spend a short vacation. You can find 5 star hotels that charge a fraction of what Singapore hotels charge. You will find many well stocked shopping malls with a wide array of good food. Grab rides are cheaper than Hanoi and the cars are of better quality. It just isn't a place we will base ourselves out of to get our books, art and photography done.
We decided to slow down and give ourselves more time to create our work in a place with the comforts of familiar food. We were extremely apprehensive given how the last two visits to KL gave us anxiety attacks. We were very lucky to find an apartment right smack in the CBD and very affordable too. We hopped on a VietJet (Vietnamese budget airlines) flight to KLIA. We are so thankful that everything went smoothly other than a 45 minute delay on the tarmac due to a technical fault that needed fixing.
ALL OF US were so grateful to be back in Malaysia. When Gwyn realised she was going to Malaysia halfway through the flight she thanked Debra so loudly a few rows of ppl looked at her HAHA! It felt like we were going back to a 2nd home. The immigration officers greeted us and smiled at us. We had lunch at the airport and we never smiled so much. FRIED RICEEEEEEEEEE and SAMBALLLLLLLLLL. Yes we are hopeless spoilt Singaporeans.....
We took a grab car to our accommodation. (Costs 70.50RM including toll) The ride was so peaceful. No honking and no dangerous manoeuvres. Grateful and relieved that the apartment is clean, comfortable and offers a gorgeous view!
We've already got a line up of posts prepared for August. We have planned a list of places in KL to visit. This time we are visiting places on public transport! We are also working hard to expanding our Tees range, stickers, Art cards range as well as brand new book launch. Stay tuned!
Before we go, let us know in the comments what are things you can't live without when you're overseas?
Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
Drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org